The latest issue of Engage: The Federalist Society's Practice Journal, features and article by Stefan Marculewicz and Jennifer Thomas titled "Labor Organizations by Another Name: The Worker Center Movement and its Evolution into Coverage under the NLRA and LMRDA." It begins:
The labor union, the primary collective advocate for workers’ rights in the United States for more than a century, has experienced a significant decline in membership. In 2011, only 6.9% of American workers in private industry were union members, compared to 9% in 2000 and 16.8% in 1983. As a result of this decline, workers’ rights advocates, whether part of a traditional labor union or not, have sought new and innovative means to effectuate change in the workplace.
One of the most significant examples of this effort is the development of organizations known as “worker centers.” Today there are hundreds of worker centers across the country. Their structures and composition vary. Typically, they are non-profit organizations funded by foundations, membership fees and other donations, that offer a variety of services to their members, including education, training, employment services and legal advice. They also advocate for worker rights generally through research, communication, lobbying and community organizing. Increasingly, however, worker centers are directly engaging employers or groups of employers to effectuate change in the wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment for their members. Indeed, when it comes to such direct engagement, these worker centers act no differently than the traditional labor organization.
Yet, few, if any of these worker centers are required to comply with the laws that regulate labor organizations—meanwhile some worker centers use these same laws to promote the rights of the workers they represent. Many provisions of these laws were enacted to ensure certain minimum rights of workers vis a vis the organizations that represent them. Statutes like the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA)7 contain significant protections with respect to promotion of the principles of organizational democracy, access to basic information and promotion of a duty of fair representation.