Worker centers, community-based organizations that serve the most marginalized and unrepresented workers in American society, are under attack, again. With the decline of traditional labor unions in recent decades, worker centers have emerged to fill the void left by this decline and to organize and amplify the collective voice of low-wage, largely immigrant workers. These worker centers seek to rebalance the relative collective bargaining power between labor and capital in the 21st century economy. Technological advances, globalization, and the continued growth of the service sector have led to socioeconomic changes that have little resemblance to the industrial society that existed at the time the labor laws were initially adopted. In this new work environment, workers toil at poverty wages and in deplorable working conditions. As employers reconstruct their businesses to reduce payroll costs, workers have been isolated and left relatively powerless to voice their concerns and assert their rights. It is in this context that the worker centers have begun to organize the new working class and to push for local and national enforcement of their rights.
Currently unencumbered by the requirements and limitations under the national labor law regime, worker centers have been able to deploy tactics that have been denied to traditional labor unions. Primarily, worker centers are not subject to the prohibition against secondary boycotts under the NLRA. As such, worker centers have not been stymied by the changing nature of the employment landscape and decentralized business model. Worker centers have been successful in applying economic pressure on business entities that, while not in a direct labor dispute with workers, have significant influence over working conditions. This success has angered business groups, who have continually called for the NLRB and the Department of Labor to determine that worker centers are statutory labor organizations that must abide by the same rules as labor unions. While initial decisions by these agencies suggest that they will not be held to be labor organizations under the law, the change in administrative tides may bring a drastic change to the agencies’ interpretations of the labor law provisions and case law precedent.
Dailey, Elizabeth, "A Union by Any Other Name? How Capital Misses the Mark on the Position of Worker Centers within the Current Labor Law Regime" (2019). Prize Winning Papers. 15.