What is a worker center?
- While there is no clear-cut definition of a worker center because so many have different styles of organizing, goals and missions, there are a few defining characteristics. Worker centers generally:
- Are a not-for-profit grassroots community organization
- Organize low-wage workers that have been generally excluded from traditional forms of collective bargaining or legally excluded from U.S labor laws. These types of workers include:
- Temporary workers
- Day laborers and independent contractors
- Domestic workers
- Undocumented immigrant workers
- Warehouse workers
- Restaurant workers
- Train and invest tremendous leadership development for worker leaders to effectively organize and know their rights
- Are worker-led. Most of all the organizing and policy efforts are coordinated and led by worker leaders themselves.
- Provide access to legal services to low-wage workers. Low-wage workers are generally excluded from legal help and worker justice attorneys fill in that gap to represent them in court, or fight against several workplace injustices. Additionally, worker centers help workers file claims and monitor basic employment standards on the ground.
- Organize for better working conditions and fair wages around an employer, an entire industry, and/or on a public policy level.
- Provide other direct services such as English as a Second Language, filing unpaid wage claims, etc.
- Worker centers primarily engage individuals in their role as workers, leveraging their economic power for social change.
Why don’t workers just join a union?
Unions have played a dynamic role in enforcing and protecting the rights of workers for several decades. While unions have organized millions of varying sector workers, there have been certain workers who have been excluded from traditional U.S labor laws and collective bargaining methods.
Worker centers have emerged to respond to the changing nature of work which includes new forms of exploitation under third-party staffing agencies, unregulated client companies, wage theft, rampant racial and gender discrimination, and some of the worst health and safety conditions. Worker centers have allowed workers to unite over shared grievances, raising employment standards even when they don’t work for the same employer.
Aren’t worker centers bad for small businesses?
Absolutely not. Worker centers fight for high-road employers who follow the law, but are being undercut by businesses who build exploitation into their business model. When basic standards are enforced, all businesses can compete at a level playing field.