op-ed

It’s Time For Republicans To Rein In Big Labor’s Surrogates Who Don’t Play By The Rules

Last month’s Senate vote approved a Republican majority to the National Labor Relations Board for the first time in a decade. Now is the opportunity to rein in Big Labor’s surrogates who don’t play by the rules: the curiously named Worker Centers. 

Worker Centers exist generally to advocate for higher employee wages and benefits — essentially, what a union does. But these groups are not classified as unions under the law. They are organized as charitable organizations, which allows them to skirt the rules for labor groups under our National Labor Relations Act, which requires transparency and curtails certain illegal pressure tactics. 

Perhaps the most egregious example of this activity is the pressure campaign being waged by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) against Wendy’s and othersCIW says it represents migrant agricultural workers –primarily tomato pickers in South Florida — and has picketed, boycotted, and demonstrated against a number of restaurants and grocers as part of a campaign to bully the companies into paying the downstream workers more money. 

Considering the restaurants don’t even employ the workers, it’s essentially extortion: Give our organization money or get bad public relations. 

Wendy’s — one of the companies that is the subject of a CIW campaign — has stood firm, which has incensed the agitators. Now, CIW has announced a smear campaign this fall tying the burger chain to sexual harassment and violence in the fields. There’s no evidence that the company is tied to these allegations, but that’s irrelevant: The goal is to twist arms until the company coughs up its lunch money.

Worker centers don’t have to file union financial disclosures and don’t have to abide by rules under the National Labor Relations Act. Unions are not allowed to picket secondary employers. Yet that is exactly what CIW does by going after restaurants and other companies that don’t employ the agricultural workers. Hardly activity that deserves to be called “charitable” or to be considered tax exempt. 

My organization, the Center for Union Facts, has recently lodged a complaint with the IRS against CIW for abusing its tax-exempt status. CIW is organized as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which the IRS says must have a purpose that is “charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.”

CIW clearly does not meet any one of these purposes. The group exists for the private financial benefit of certain agricultural workers. The very premise of its program that requires that supermarkets and restaurants to pay more to their group or their members is not exactly educational or feeding the homeless. Moreover, there’s a lack of transparency about the money that flows through these groups as well as the secret agreements they badger companies into signing. 

Worker Centers should be treated like labor unions, because that’s what they are. They have members who are workers, and they are trying to negotiate pay rates and working conditions. They should be allowed to do this, but it shouldn’t be done under a charitable, tax-exempt status. 

The National Labor Relations Act defines a union as a group “dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work.” CIW has attempted to circumvent this by calling the money it obtains for its workers “bonuses.” And the NLRB previously has said classifying Worker Centers as labor organizations depends on what “dealing with” means. It is too much word games and not enough intellectual honesty. 

With 6.4 percent of private-sector workers in labor unions in 2016 — a new low in the steady decline since 1983 — it’s clear the public doesn’t want what unions are selling. So unions have put on a mask, and the number of Worker Centers have increased from five in 1992 to over 200 today. The NLRB and IRS should rein in union surrogates who are abusing the tax code and labor rules to clamp down on these labor unions by another name.

Richard Berman is the executive director of the Center for Union Facts.

 The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.