Classing worker centers like unions is wrongheaded

Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) wrote Labor Secretary Thomas Perez this week, as reported in the Wall Street Journal on July 25, asking for an “official determination” on the question of whether worker centers should be subject to the same filing requirements as labor unions.

Their letter should be rejected as a baldly partisan attempt to restrict the valuable work performed by these non-profit organizations. Indeed, treating worker centers like labor unions would constrain the rights of both vulnerable workers and community members to assemble and demand accountability from corporations that violate labor laws, mistreat workers, or pay poverty wages.

Kline and Roe, citing an argument in an article published in the Federalist Society’s Engage, argue worker centers should be subject to increased scrutiny because they “deal with” employers in a manner covered by the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). Namely, since at least part of their work involves advocating for improved wages and benefits in their interactions with employers, they must be acting, or intending to act, as labor unions according to the LMRDA.

This interpretation of the LMRDA, along with the interpretation found in the original article on which they base their case, would make the definition of a “labor organization” so broad as to be absurd.

The United Methodist Church, for instance, calls upon its members to “bring about the creation of conditions that encompass fundamental workers’ rights, fair wages, a safe and healthy workplace, reasonable hours of work, [and] decent living standards.” And indeed, our organization, Interfaith Worker Justice, regularly engages Methodist clergy in doing just that – often by speaking to employers on behalf of their congregants and other community members.

Would. Kline and Roe suggest that the United Methodist Church – of which they are both members – be classified as a labor union because it intends, and indeed appears to exist in part, to improve the wages and conditions of working people?

I would urge Kline and Roe to reconsider their partisan attack on worker centers. These centers, like the United Methodist Church, seek to empower and protect vulnerable workers in low-wage jobs. And they remind all of us that we have a moral responsibility to respect the dignity of working people, who after all, are created in the image of God.

This article originally appeared in The Hill on August 6, 2013. It was co-authored by Kim Bobo.

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