Freedom Foundation

Freedom Foundation complaint alleges Seattle union front group violating federal labor laws

As reported today by Bloomberg Law, the Freedom Foundation and Center for Union Facts have jointly filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) alleging that Working Washington, a Seattle, Wash.-based nonprofit worker center, has failed to comply with federal regulations governing unions and other labor organizations.

Although structured differently than a traditional labor union, the complaint contends that Working Washington meets the definition of “labor organization” in the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) and should therefore be subject to its requirements and the jurisdiction of DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS).

Enacted by Congress in 1959, the LMRDA “regulates certain aspects of internal [labor organization] affairs” in the private-sector, with the goal of “protect[ing employees’] interests by promoting democratic procedures within labor organizations.” Among other things, the LMRDA creates a “Bill of Rights” for members of labor organizations, requires labor organizations to file their governing documents and annual financial reports with OLMS, and requires that such organizations abide by certain standards when electing officers.

The 57-page complaint and accompanying 540 pages of supporting documentation explain that Working Washington’s purpose is to change “wages and working conditions” for private-sector employees and that it has employees who participate in the organization as members and leaders.

Though perhaps best known for its advocacy in support of job-killing employment regulations in Seattle and statewide in Washington, the complaint also documents that, over the course of its history, Working Washington has routinely dealt with private employers like Subway, Amazon, Alaska Airlines, Starbucks and many others in attempts to alter wages, benefits or specific working conditions or workplace practices. In some cases, Working Washington has even been involved in unionizing employees at certain businesses. Accordingly, it meets the definition of “labor organization” under the LMRDA.

Nevertheless, Working Washington has, at minimum, failed to comply with the LMRDA’s transparency requirements by filing its governing documents and financial reports with OLMS.

In fact, Working Washington is one of hundreds of similar labor advocacy organizations that have sprung up in recent years and seek to operate outside the legal framework that regulates traditional unions and protects the interests of the workers they represent.

Variously referred to as “worker centers,” “alt-labor” groups and “union-front organizations,” these organizations have so far generally escaped federal scrutiny. Though Bloomberg Law has previously reported on an OLMS investigation into a Minneapolis-based worker center, no formal resolution has been reached, at least publicly.

Like many worker centers, Working Washington receives significant funding from traditional labor unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The Freedom Foundation has previously documented the exceptionally close ties between Working Washington and Seattle-based SEIU Local 775. For instance, SEIU 775’s longtime president, David Rolf, is presently the board president of Working Washington.

“It’s both good policy and correct law for the Department of Labor to apply the LMRDA to union front groups like Working Washington that have purposely avoided complying with the law’s requirements,” said Maxford Nelsen, director of labor policy at the Freedom Foundation and the complaint’s primary author.

“This exhaustive complaint should make it clear to any administration that the LMRDA — which, for 60 years, has helped protect employees in their dealings with unions and labor groups — demands that Working Washington be subject to its regulations as a labor organization.”

For more information, contact:

Maxford Nelsen
Director of Labor Policy
(360) 956-3482