Behind “Worker Centers” – SEIU’s Newest Unionization Scheme

Service Employee International Union uses “Worker Centers” like Fast Food Forward to evade worker protections and draft new workers into the SEIU. Part I.
SEIU's worker center, Fast Food Forward, promoted on Twitter

The SEIU’s official Twitter promotes efforts of one of their worker centers, Fast Food Forward.

Consider the SEIU’s predicament. Now is not the best time to be in the leadership of the SEIU. Far from being the “fastest growing union, the SEIU is shrinking, even despite favorable treatment by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Not even Obama’s unconstitutional appointees and regular rulings in favor of unions can improve their numbers.

So the SEIU is forced to choose between making the union more competitive to workers and finding even sneakier ways of organizing. As you can probably assume, they’ve chosen the latter option out of the two. The SEIU is finding new ways around the laws surrounding labor organizations.

In most unionization attempts, the union traditionally approaches workers and attempts to organize them directly with the stated purpose of organizing them into a union. Once they reach critical mass, they either demand the employer to voluntarily recognize the union (card check) or they ask the NLRB to hold a vote. There is a significant amount of law surrounding what employers and unions may do here. These laws protect employees from shady dealings by both the unions and employers.

Now, it seems the SEIU is finding new ways to infiltrate employees without making it seem like they’re actually organizing. The SEIU is connected to many of the new “worker center” groups across the country, with names like “Fast Food Forward” that target different industries. The SEIU’s ties to groups like “Fast Food Forward” are documented in this piece by the National Legal and Policy Center:

Our old ACORN friend, New York Communities for Change, is partnering with the Service Employees International Union… in a campaign called Fast Food Forward. The SEIU-directed group has hired 40 full-time persons to organize workers at McDonald’s, Domino’s, Wendy’s and other New York City fast-food outlets. The group’s modus operandi is targeting outlets for an employee walkout. Fast Food Forward seeks a minimum industry wage of $15 an hour and union recognition for workers.

Groups like these operate chiefly through Facebook and Twitter pages, and email/phone text campaigns that directly contact interested employees in various industries. Since the online presence doesn’t require a physical address, it’s much harder to prove a link between the union and the sham group. As described by CNS News, Workers Centers are preferred by unions specifically because of this separation:

…Worker centers operate outside of the parameters of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and enjoy mainstream support from groups unaware that behind the curtain, these centers are being funded and guided by seasoned labor organizers. This arrangement allows unions easy access to activists, and potentially new members, while providing a relatively bulletproof apparatus from which to focus their attacks on non-unionized industries and companies.

Through these sham groups, the SEIU can organize things like strikes and walkouts without having the union name attached. This way they avoid NLRB rules about that govern how these activities are conducted. Employees can protest indefinitely.

A key example of this is Artistic Stitches, Inc., where a SEIU affiliate, Workers United, attained representation through “spontaneous strikes” organized by a worker center:

Workers approached the interfaith workers’ rights organization Arise Chicago, who assisted in organizing co-workers to know their rights on the job. Selecting Workers United as their union with which to affiliate, the workers petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election. Last week, the workers won by a decisive majority and now have union representation.
“The relationship between the workers center and our union has been perfect,” said Margarita Klein, staff director of Workers United. “And this is only the beginning.”
Cortez had the following message for other workers in a situation like hers: “If something unjust is happening to you at work, there are organizations like Arise and Workers United that can help protect you.”

In writing about the unionization, Insurgent Notes, a neo-communist labor blog notes that worker centers like these often work hand-in-hand with unions like the SEIU:

Another quite recent victory came in Chicago where workers in an embroidery factory secured union representation (in this case, they chose the United Workers, an SEIU affiliate). Many, perhaps most, of these worker center–based organizing projects focused on workers in low-wage jobs, are conducted with the active support and, often enough, leadership provided by a variety of community-based organizations—with support from one or more unions.

Rather than modernizing to provide competitive benefits, the SEIU is trying to repeat their old tricks in new ways. Unfortunately this has been a trend, and they don’t seem particularly interested in reversing it now.

We will work to bring you more information about these workers centers as we collect more information. To get the latest, please click here to sign up for our email newsletter.

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