Chamber takes aim at worker centers

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce took aim Thursday at worker centers with a new report detailing the groups’ foundation funding.

Worker centers are the nonprofit allies of unions that have increasingly become central this year to organizing workers as they demand higher wages and better workplace conditions. The AFL-CIO and others in labor have sought to strengthen their ties with worker centers as traditional union organizing has gone into decline.


The move by unions has grabbed the attention of labor critics and they have tried to bring new scrutiny upon worker centers.

“Contrary to their public façade, union front groups are well-financed, highly-sophisticated labor organizations,” said Glenn Spencer, vice president of the Chamber’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, in a statement. “When you pull back the curtain, one finds a river of financial support flowing to these groups from activist foundations.” 

The 48-page report — authored by Jarol Manheim, an emeritus professor at George Washington University, and commissioned by the Chamber — tallies up $57 million in funding to worker centers from foundations from 2009 to 2012.

“By reaching out to and through worker centers and their allied community organizations in the hope of capturing the benefits of this community-based grassroots organizing, and in some instances by mimicking center-like structures within the traditional union framework, the AFL- CIO and various international unions are hoping to reverse the long-term adverse trend in union density that threatens their power,” reads the Chamber’s report.

The report details recent grants by a number of foundations — including the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Center — to worker centers such as Restaurant Opportunities Center United and the Food Chain Workers Alliance.

Worker centers have helped organize walkouts of fast-food workers and protests against Walmart, which have grabbed national attention. Worker demonstrations for higher wages are planned against the nation’s largest employer this coming Black Friday.