U.S. Chamber says non-union groups could reshape labor relations

Wed Apr 16, 2014 5:27pm EDT
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By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The biggest U.S. business lobbying group is warning the nation's employers that labor relations could be reshaped by non-union labor groups that are backing high-profile efforts to raise wages and mandate paid sick leave.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted trade association representatives, labor consultants, attorneys and political staffers on Wednesday for a briefing on "worker centers" as partners and sometimes replacements of traditional labor unions.

"Unions have come to view worker centers as critical to their long-term future," said Glenn Spencer of the chamber's Workforce Freedom Initiative.

The term "worker center" is a catch-all used to describe everything from community organizations that provide job training and other services to formal labor union affiliates.

A chamber report released Wednesday says that as these new groups become more entrenched in the labor movement, they could lead to a "significant paradigm shift" in U.S. labor law.

In the United States, labor unions must have the support of a majority of employees in order to bargain on behalf of workers and negotiate with employers. Other countries allow unions to bargain on behalf of only those workers who choose to join, even if they only represent a minority of workers.

But worker centers advocate for workers without going through the traditional union-election process and do not have to show majority support. It could allow the minority representation model to gain traction with U.S. regulators, the chamber said.

"That's a completely different model than the way our system works currently," Littler Mendelson attorney Stefan Marculewicz said at the chamber event at its Washington, D.C. headquarters.   Continued...

A man chants outside Wal-Mart during a protest for better wages and working conditions during Black Friday in San Leandro, California November 29, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam