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National Restaurant Association - House hearing examines role of worker centers

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House hearing examines role of worker centers

A House subcommittee hearing Thursday focused on the activities and roles of worker centers, with several subcommittee members raising the question of whether such organizations—some of which have been involved in efforts to unionize restaurant workers—should be subject to the same laws and regulations as unions.

The hearing of the House Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), titled “The Future of Union Organizing,” was the first time Congress has held a hearing that focused on worker centers. Several members of the committee pointed to recent worker center activities, including the August rallies for a $15 minimum wage at restaurants across the country, as examples of worker centers engaging in actions that historically have been spearheaded by unions. Last month’s rallies also received funding from a major labor organization, SEIU. However, the committee members noted, worker centers have not been required to comply with financial and information disclosure requirements of the National Labor Relations Act and Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).   

“Recent news reports have highlighted one particular strategy to utilize worker centers to build employee support for unionization,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), subcommittee chairman, said in opening remarks at the hearing. “Worker centers often engage in traditional union activities, such as corporate campaigns and employee walkouts. But because they operate under the guise of nonprofit community organizations, they can avoid a range of federal standards that have long governed union conduct.”

Testimony and questioning during the hearing also addressed labor organization disclosure and tax obligations, employer and employee rights and responsibilities under the NLRA and LMRDA and worker center funding sources.

Roe, along with Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, sent a letter in July to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, asking for a determination on the filing requirements of several worker centers under the LMRDA, including the Restaurant Opportunities Centers and Fast Food Forward. Kline and Roe have since asked for additional clarification on filing requirements of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers.

The National Restaurant Association, in a letter to Roe and Kline, thanked the committee for calling attention to the “increasingly blurred line between worker centers and labor organizations.

“The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act contains a number of annual filing requirements meant to bring transparency and clarity with regard to organizations ‘in which employees participate and which exist for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours, or other terms or conditions of employment,” Angelo Amador, NRA vice president, labor and workforce policy, wrote in the letter. “Some of these [worker centers] even admit to using tactics that include organizing workers, but somehow fail to abide by the requirements of the LMRDA.”

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