Sorting fact from fiction in the so-called strikes and other worker protests taking place this weekend is a challenging proposition, but one organization hopes to set the record straight.
A group called the Worker Center Watch supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling attention to a number of organizations such as OUR Walmart it contends are fronts for organized labor who exist to dodge regulations governing labor organizing activities.
"Worker centers are labor organizations, they clearly fit the definition," said Peter Schaumber, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board during a media briefing. "These are not grassroots activities like they would like to convince the media and others. Unions can outsource organizing activities to these groups, which lets unions remain in the background."
"Worker centers give unions a way to play in the legal shadows while skirting accountability and oversight," said Jim Plunkett, director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "By avoiding being labeled as labor organizations, they're able to play fast and loose with labor requirements, such as rules prohibiting secondary boycotts and protracted picketing (over 30 days)."
The protests taking place this weekend and likely through the holidays are part of a misleading PR campaign being financed and orchestrated by union leaders in an attempt to disrupt holiday shopping and hurt sales at large retailers. However, very few actual retail workers participate in the protests, which are mostly populated by paid protestors, career activists and union members, according to Worker Center Watch.
"It's important to note that these (Black Friday) protests are not in the interest of employees," said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "Pension plans of the UFCW are in critical status, and less than 65% funded. UFCW needs new members and a new stream of contributions."
The group contends that union front groups are employing egregious tactics such as:
• Paying and busing in protestors to create a big enough crowd to attract media attention.
• Designating certain protestors to be arrested to maximize publicity value.
• Preparing to pay the legal bills of anyone arrested, and in some cases, coordinating with local police in advance on how arrests will take place.
• Disrupting shoppers through street theater and noisy demonstrations outside targeted stores.
• Hassling employees and shoppers through chants, songs and disruptive actions inside stores and hiring videographers to capture actions for social media.
By using the non-profit worker centers to carry out these aggressive tactics against employers, unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are skirting labor laws to push their agenda, according to Worker Center Watch.
A recent study released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce showed that unions and certain foundation allies are funneling millions of dollars through worker centers to drive their political and social agendas. The report, The Emerging Role of Worker Centers in Union Organizing: A Strategic Assessment (PDF), details the tremendous financial support that worker centers receive from foundations such as the Kellogg, Ford and Rockefeller.
"Contrary to their public façade, union front groups are well-financed, highly sophisticated labor organizations," commented Glenn Spencer, vice president of the Workforce Freedom Initiative (WFI). "When you pull back the curtain, one finds a river of financial support flowing to these groups from activist foundations.'"
"The desperate campaign by UFCW, OUR Walmart, AFL-CIO and other labor activists is nothing more than a smokescreen to distract the media and others from Big Labor's real mission, which is to soften up service industries such as retail for unionization," said Ryan Williams, media director for Worker Center Watch, a coalition of business owners and concerned citizens dedicated to exposing unions' abuse of the worker center organizational model. "Unions are betting millions and millions of dollars that their survival hinges on alt labor and worker center groups. They're fixated on replenishing depleted union treasuries."