WASHINGTON - August 9 - A new national partnership agreement signed today by the AFL-CIO and the largest network of worker centers serving low-wage, often immigrant workers will help promote and advance the workplace rights of all workers, both organizations said. Approved here today by the AFL-CIO Executive Council, the new partnership agreement with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the nation’s largest day laborer association, followed passage of a policy decision by the 53-union AFL-CIO providing for formal ties with the worker centers that have sprung up across the country.
“Day laborers in the United States often face the harshest forms of workplace problems and this exploitation hurts us all because when standards are dragged down for some workers, they are dragged down for all workers,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “The work being done by worker centers and NDLON in particular is some of the most important work in the labor movement today, and it’s time to bring our organizations closer together. Through this watershed partnership, we will strengthen our ability to promote and enforce the workplace rights for all workers -- union and non-union, immigrant and non-immigrant alike.”
The agreement does not make the workers in the centers members of unions, but provides an organized framework for joint work by the AFL-CIO and a group that is considered one of the most dynamic advocates for workers in today’s economy.
Ten years ago, there were four worker centers in the United States. Today, there are over 140 of them in 31 states, in rural areas as well as big cities. NDLON is the largest and most structured association of worker centers, operating as an umbrella organization for over 40 centers that focus on correcting systemic violations of the rights of day laborers and giving them a public voice. Rampant abuses of workplace rights among the growing ranks of day laborers were documented in a report published earlier this year by the independent Center for the Study of Urban Poverty.
“The growing worker center movement shows that the fight for change at work has never been as vibrant, varied and urgent,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “Yet the end goal remains the same: to ensure that the rights and freedoms of workers aren’t reserved just for a few, but extended to the many -- regardless of where you were born, the color of your skin, your gender or migratory status. This new partnership will advance that goal.”
The AFL-CIO and NDLON will work together for state and local enforcement of rights as well as the development of new protections in areas including wage and hour laws, health and safety regulations, immigrants’ rights and employee misclassification. They will also work together for comprehensive immigration reform that supports workplace rights and includes a path to citizenship and political equality for immigrant workers – and against punitive, anti-immigrant, anti-worker legislation.
Worker centers operate as grassroots mediating institutions providing support to communities of low-wage workers, many of them new immigrants and people of color. Increasingly popular models for low wage and immigrant worker organizing, the centers provide community spaces where employers and laborers can meet with a staff equipped to handle workplace violations. The majority of centers provide a variety of services ranging from legal representation to recover unpaid wages; English classes; worker rights education and access to health clinics. Through creative strategies, worker centers have had significant success improving working conditions and raising wages for low-wage workers in high turnover industries and impermanent employment relationships.
“By combining our resources in communities and states, we hope to translate the substantial gains achieved by worker centers into the lasting improvement of working conditions,” Sweeney said. “Worker centers will benefit from the labor movement's extensive involvement and experience in policy and legislative initiatives on the local, state and national levels. This partnership will also benefit AFL-CIO unions and local labor bodies by establishing channels to formally connect with local worker centers in order to expose abuses and improve workplace standards in various industries to the benefit of all workers.”
In some communities, worker centers and unions have already been working collaboratively – advancing worker-friendly laws and ordinances, spotlighting unscrupulous employers and industry abuses and enlisting support from government agencies for enforcement of workers’ rights.. Despite their common interests, however, relationships between organized labor and worker centers have been largely non-existent. The agreement will build on existing, informal relationships and promote the creation of new ones between local labor movements and neighboring worker centers, the two organizations said.