I ran across a U. S. Chamber of Commerce report on worker centers in America. The Chamber appears to be worried worker centers are increasing and they look at them as comparable to a union, which they are not, or a way to organize workers against an employer or group of employers in a particular industry.
In their report, the U. S. Chamber admits there is a key difference between worker centers and labor unions. That difference is worker centers do not negotiate labor contracts. Labor unions may help worker centers because they have expertise in helping all workers with workplace issues and they also know how to campaign and raise awareness for social causes. Some worker centers have affiliated with a union but not all of them do that.
According to their website, the Chamber sites labor as one of their issues. They say many positive things about U. S. labor but they also say they want to keep wages at current levels instead of narrowing the wage gap. In fact if you do a search on their website about income inequality, the Chamber will lay blame on many other issues instead of CEOs receiving enormous pay increases from their boards. But according to Forbes magazine, income inequality is directly related to those pay increases. CEOs and business owners, the people the Chamber represents, make 270 times more than the average worker according to the Forbes article and they also say CEO pay has increased 930% since 1978.
In addition, the U. S. Chamber is fighting safe working conditions. They argue against U. S. Department of Labor regulations that would require federal contractors to disclose violations in regards to regulations. The Chamber feels this imposes a hardship on companies because it costs them more and takes more time to report any problems. On the other hand, Liberty Insurance says they will identify on a regular basis the top 10 most common non-fatal injuries and accidents to encourage and help U. S. employers have safer working conditions. They say the $50 billion cost to employers for those injuries and accidents obviously impacts their ability to be profitable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of fatal accidents that occurred in workplaces during 2016 increased by 7% from the year before. In other words, over 5,000 worker deaths happened that didn’t need to happen. That may explain why tighter regulations are necessary.
One community in Colorado started a worker center because there were so many day workers staying in homeless shelters. The center was started to help workers understand their rights and to help them find a job with a livable wage instead of relying on others or public assistance for support. Another worker center in Florida helped tomato pickers have safer working conditions. Many of the workers were working in extremely hot working conditions and were not permitted to take breaks. The worker center helped them change work rules so that they now take regular breaks under shade. I think most people would agree safe working conditions including heat related protections are absolutely necessary.
In 2006, Cornell University under their Industrial Labor Relations department wrote a report on worker centers. Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of a Dream by Janice Fine tells about the benefits worker centers provide not just for workers but for communities and employers. In addition to helping workers find jobs with livable wages, they also help those who are having problems finding assistance in an already convoluted system. Some centers also provide legal assistance for possible wage theft issues. Centers can also be an organizing location for campaigns or drives to raise awareness on certain social issues. This helps to teach workers leadership skills which can aid an employer. Some worker centers help with safety training which can help prevent accidents and injuries from occurring. Workers can also learn English which also helps employers as they show new workers what’s expected of them.
The AFL-CIO supports worker centers because they help ALL workers. They joined with several non-profit organizations including the Ford Foundation to provide grants for worker centers. On their website, the AFL-CIO says workers who are not represented by collective bargaining rights may need other types of assistance. They also list the 17 worker centers they help. Unions would be wise to continue to provide assistance to worker centers. It demonstrates their commitment to helping all workers and to social justice issues. It also provides a positive image and can help build relationships with workers who are not currently organized but may seek assistance in the future and this is why the Chamber is uncomfortable about worker centers.
The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives lists over 3,000 affiliations across the U. S. The UCLA Labor Center report lists 250 worker centers across the U. S. so why are worker centers really a threat? Does the Chamber see them as a threat because they found out in their research other organizations see a benefit in worker centers? The Chamber lists many different organizations in their report who are providing financial support in addition to the support unions are also providing. And let’s not forget the Pew Research poll of how Americans view unions and corporations. Not all Americans are as happy with corporations as they are unions. Abothree-fourths of the young adults polled favored unions over corporations. It’s time the Chamber and corporations start providing a more favorable impression.
Instead of complaining about worker centers and unions, why not collaborate with them and also get some benefit. Some of the ways worker centers and employers could collaborate have already been identified but it also would allow employers to show a positive image, too, as they provide good community support. Some employers complain about training costs. Maybe by partnering with a union or worker center employers could lower their training costs and at the same time allow their distinct needs to be met. Some worker centers have already formed alliances with employers to help them find new employees. Training would actually go a step further.
So, again, why is it so necessary for the U. S. Chamber to worry about the number of worker centers or labor union memberships? Why is it so important to eliminate worker centers and unions? There are so many other ways chambers, unions and worker centers could all partner to save costs, provide expertise and create competitive workplaces but it starts by one side not looking at the other two sides as the enemy. In other words, why can’t we just get along? Why does everything have to be a fight? Think how much could actually happen if we all just work together. Enough is enough!