It will likely not surprise you that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not too fond of unions. The ability for workers to collectively bargain and improve the conditions of their employment is a threat to the bottom lines of the corporations that make up the Chamber’s membership. The Chamber is motivated to block the power of unions by its desire for corporations to have the ability to keep wages low for their workforce, to limit workplace safety protections, and to make sure that workers can’t fight back.
What you may not know, however, is that the Chamber also opposes other, non-union labor initiatives. Enter worker centers. Worker centers are groups of working people from certain sectors who do not have the legal right to collectively bargain, but are nevertheless an important force in advocating for the rights of workers and their communities. Worker centers might organize for better wages and benefits, or they might educate the public about injustices such as racism in the labor market. They do not have the same legal status as a union, but they provide a valuable safety net to workers who do not or cannot belong to a union.
Apparently, the Chamber is outraged by even that level of worker protection. They have taken up the mantle of impugning worker centers with the ultimate goal of doing away with them. In April, the Chamber released a report entitled “Worker Centers: Union Front Groups and the Law.” In it, the Chamber lays out the argument that worker centers are “union front groups”—that is, that they are secretly unions going by another name and should be regulated the same way unions are. This is transparently absurd: worker centers exist specifically to serve populations that are not served by unions, and they lack the power to collectively bargain, which is one of the defining attributes of unions. The Chamber would have us ignore this clear distinction because it is inconvenient for its narrative.
As is so often the case, this effort to dismantle the power of worker centers by the Chamber mirrors a similar effort by the GOP. House Republicans have vowed to make the same changes to worker centers’ legal classification as the Chamber is advocating for.
Of course, if the Chamber and its buddies in the GOP truly felt that worker centers are secretly unions, they could say that centers should have all of the same collective bargaining power as unions do. But of course they won’t do that, because these arguments are in bad faith: the Chamber and its allies know full well that worker centers are merely a minimal line of defense for workers who have nothing else to protect them, and are unable to tolerate even that meager level of worker protections.
It should not surprise us that the Chamber takes such consistently anti-worker stances. However, it actually may surprise the corporations that are members of the Chamber and proclaim to care about their workers’ lives and well-being. For instance, McDonald’s and Gap both having sections on their websites about respecting the human rights of their workers. These companies should take a long look at the Chamber’s appalling record on workers’ rights and withdraw their funding and support for the Chamber.
Photo credit: Flickr user Washington State Dept. of Transportation | CC BY 2.0
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