- - Sunday, February 25, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta at the helm, the Department of Labor (DOL) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have made significant progress to reverse some of the prior administration’s more damaging, anti-business regulatory decisions.

However, there is still much work to be done to restore a regulatory environment that ensures our nation’s workplace and labor laws are fair and transparent for employees and employers alike.

That’s why the Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI) is pleased to see that various members of Congress have opened a new dialogue with the secretary about an issue that was allowed to fester and proliferate under the Obama-era DOL: the ever-elusive worker center. This has been something the business community has been struggling with for the better part of a decade.

In a recent letter to Mr. Acosta, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce highlighted the little-understood, but hugely influential groups that often act as union organizers without any of the federal oversight or accountability usually applied to labor. WFI applauds Chairwoman Virginia Foxx and Subcommittee Chairman Tim Walberg for giving this issue the attention it deserves.

Now, it’s time for Mr. Acosta’s Labor Department to respond — which should be nothing short of direct, decisive action to bring some much-needed transparency and oversight to these expansive operating worker centers.

Worker centers — including groups like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-funded Fight for $15 or the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) affiliated OUR Walmart — operate on the outskirts of federal law.

Though not technically designated as labor organizations, they are able to partner with unions to coordinate and execute a range of labor-related activities — from spending huge sums on media campaigns to unlimited, unrestrained picketing and protesting — that traditional union groups are barred from doing.

That’s why Big Labor is pumping big money into these worker centers; they are for all intents and purposes unions themselves, but free from established labor rules and regulations.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has repeatedly tried to raise this issue with the DOL over the years, frequently sending letters addressing various concerns with worker center activities. However, under President Obama’s DOL, both their missives and misgivings largely fell on deaf ears.

Fortunately, the committee and Ms. Foxx are persistent. Now, under the new administration, they are calling on Mr. Acosta to follow through on three specific actions to increase transparency and accountability.

The Committee’s letter to Mr. Acosta notes that worker centers are nothing more than “front groups controlled by big labor special interests,” that are not subject to the requirements laid out in the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).

The letter explains how the Obama administration’s DOL reversed many of its predecessor’s efforts to increase union transparency, such as improving reporting and disclosure forms, more strictly enforcing reporting requirements, reducing the time between union audits, and more.

Despite the LMRDA’s “stated goal of union transparency,” the letter details, Mr. Obama’s DOL and NLRB focused instead on creating “burdensome requirements for employers.” Therefore, the first thing the committee asks Mr. Acosta to do is to establish an updated test to determine whether a worker center should be classified as a labor organization under the LMRDA.

The second step the secretary must take, according to the letter and echoed by business leaders across the country, is to “initiate investigations and enforcement against worker centers that are subject to reporting requirements under the LMRDA but do not file reports.”

To illustrate the rampant abuse in this area, the committee highlighted several examples of designated worker centers — like OUR Walmart, the Texas-based Workers Defense Project and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers out of Florida — that were either structured as labor organizations or participated in activities that would classify them as one.

However, not one of them has ever filed the required reports with the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) as required by federal law. Clearly, current enforcement efforts to ensure compliance with LMRDA are not enough — it’s time for Mr. Acosta to step them up.

Finally, the committee’s letter asks the secretary to “require increased clarity and transparency in the reports of worker centers that appear to be serving as improper go-betweens for international unions and non-reporting entities.”

The current lack of transparency has allowed unions like the SEIU to use certain worker centers, like the Carolina Workers Organizing Committee and the Fast Food Workers Committee, as conduits to transfer funds to non-reporting entities in order to support and advance their union-organizing efforts without ever having to file reports with the OLMS.

This runs counter to the purpose of OLMS, and the entire notion of accountability and transparency in how union funds are being used (and whose pockets they are lining).

Worker centers have been allowed to operate outside of the law for long enough. It’s time for Mr. Acosta to respond to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s concerns regarding this matter and enact regulations that ensure transparency for America’s workers and businesses by holding worker centers accountable for their role in advancing Big Labor’s pro-union agenda.

Heather Greenaway is a spokesperson for the Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI).

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