Congress Should End Big Labor's Shell Game | Commentary

Several members of Congress have recently begun to shine a spotlight on an elaborate shell game — Big Labor’s deliberate avoidance of labor laws by leveraging non-profit community organizations, or so-called worker centers.

This summer, House Republicans began raising questions about the practices of union-backed worker centers, which continue to maintain that they are not subject to the labor organizing and disclosure requirements that govern unions.

Reps. John Kline, R-Minn. and Phil Roe, R-Tenn., asked Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez for an official determination as to why the groups that led the widely publicized strikes against retail and restaurant brands this summer aren’t subject to the same regulations as the unions that fund and guide them. Last week, Kline and Roe’s committee took the conversation a step further by holding a hearing on “The Future of Union Organizing,” but unfortunately no immediate outcomes or obligations on worker centers are likely to materialize.

Meanwhile, labor activist groups will happily continue their attack campaigns against any business with the audacity to try to eke out a profit. In this day and age, creating jobs and opportunities for the Americans who need them most is an even higher risk venture as unions, and their worker center attack dogs, scout for their newest target.

For Big Labor, it’s a matter of survival, with membership levels plunging toward all-time lows. Utilizing a model similar to that of ACORN, labor leaders have carefully constructed a blueprint to drive their agenda — masking their involvement and avoiding the law. Like the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, many worker centers have cleverly portrayed themselves as benign, non-profit groups that enjoy support from local clergy and charitable foundations — many unaware of their true purpose. Some even receive taxpayer funding through government grants.

Consider New York Communities for Change, which was created out of the remnants of ACORN. It’s led by former ACORN organizers and even works out of the same offices that the defunct organization once occupied. From participating in Occupy Wall Street protests to orchestrating the fast food strikes in New York that served as the model for similar nationwide actions, NYCC and its Fast Food Forward campaign are far from local citizen groups focused on training and education.

Flush with millions in funding from the Service Employees International Union, NYCC and its affiliated organizations have served as Big Labor’s ground troops waging war on anyone employing part-time, low-wage workers. Demanding that these low-profit employers double minimum wages, provide paid sick leave and make it easy for even a few employees at a workplace to form their own mini-union is nothing short of a full-scale assault on business owners.

If you ever wondered what became of the Occupy Movement, look no further than these attacks by what worker center activists view as the “1 percent.”

Similarly, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a worker center founded a little more than a decade ago by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union in New York, banged pots and intimidated patrons and employees at several celebrity chef-owned restaurants for many months to inflict as much reputation and financial damage as possible. In case there was any doubt behind its motives, ROC itself has said it exists to “organize the 99 percent of the industry that doesn’t have a union.” As the group’s co-founder puts it, “The goal is to create a labor-friendly climate ... so the union can organize them in a few years.”

Worker centers continue to violate the spirit, and potentially the letter, of labor laws and congressional leaders are right to take action. It is time for lawmakers to begin challenging union-friendly federal agencies that are supposed to provide oversight. Worker centers should be classified for what they are: “labor organizations.” If left unchecked, these anti-business, dues-starved labor leaders may get their wish, and the jobs they seek to elevate may very well disappear altogether.

Ryan Williams is an adviser to Worker Center Watch. He was formerly a spokesman for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.