Worker Centers and Labor Law Protections: Why Aren’t They Having Their Cake?

Source: Kati L. Griffith, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 36 no. 2, 2015

As private sector labor union membership in the United States dwindles, the number of worker centers continues to grow. In 1985, there were just five worker centers in the United States. Today there are more than 200 such centers. Worker centers are often broadly defined as “community-based mediating institutions that organize, advocate, and provide direct support to low-wage workers.” Given worker centers’ focus on low-wage workers largely engaged in service sectors of our postindustrial economy and their relatively recent entrance into the field of United States labor relations, scholars and commentators are increasingly debating the applicability of the eighty-year-old National Labor Relations Act5 (NLRA) to the worker organizing activities of these emerging organizations.

As Part I will elaborate upon, until now, those who have examined the applicability of the NLRA to worker centers have focused on whether the NLRA’s restrictions on “labor organizations” apply to worker centers. …. Part II considers the extent to which NLRA protections have been helpful to worker center organizing efforts to date. …. Part III proposes several theories to explain why worker centers have not turned to the NLRA’s protections more proactively. In conclusion, the essay proposes a framework for future empirical work in this area. ….