A labor watchdog group had recently filed a complaint with the IRS and had challenged a worker center’s non-profit status.
The Center for Union Facts had lodged a complaint to the agency accusing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) for being a union front group organized as a nonprofit in order to avoid any federal labor regulations.
The coalition is a worker center, which has successfully helped the agricultural workers in Florida receive additional pays from companies that had used the vegetables they had harvested. The complaint said that the worker center should be forced to file as a labor organization, rather than as a tax-deductible nonprofit because it serves a very specific set of people, agricultural workers, rather than the general public.
“By CIW’s own admission it does not serve the public at large but instead a group of workers seeking concessions from their employers,” the complaint states. “We respectfully request that the IRS examine CIW’s Forms 990 for 2013, 2014, and 2015, and, if appropriate, revoke its tax-exempt status.”
The coalition, which represents a more than 40,000 workers, did not return for any requests to comment.
The CIW has been one of the most successful worker centers in all of the country, taking on some of the largest corporations in the country. It had launched a protest campaign against McDonalds that had ended in 2007 after the company had agreed to pay an additional penny per pound of tomatoes to the benefit workers—though some workers had sued claiming that they did not receive their share of the money from CIW.
The CIW has since then landed similar deals for workers with other grocery and chain restaurant companies and had incorporated them into its Fair Food Program. The CIW now has Wendy’s in the crosshairs, waging a boycott campaign against the eatery to force them into participating in the program.
While labor unions are bound by elections or card check agreement regulations in order to win the representation for members, worker centers do not need to prove that they are supported by a majority of the workforce. They are also able to stage the rolling walkouts and secondary boycotts like those they used first against McDonalds and now Wendy’s—tactics that unions are strictly barred from using.
“The very premise of the program—that supermarkets and restaurants have to pay more to people who are not in their employ, or else face protests and boycotts—is more akin to blackmail and extortion than charitable activity,” the complaint said.
The complaint could pave the way for an additional oversight of worker centers, which critics say bypasses the traditional labor law using their own nonprofit status. While the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board had overseen such cases and complaints involving the worker centers neither has clarified whether worker centers should be regulated as traditional labor unions.
The IRS could settle that dispute by weighing in on CIW’s status. Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Worker Center Watch, had said worker centers remain in “murky legal waters” because of their actions which reflect that of a union, even if their funding does not.
“Many of today’s worker centers have essentially become union front groups, cynically offering traditional worker center services as a false front designed to get a foot in the door whereby focus can shift to more traditional organizing and advocacy,” he added. “Unions are creating, funding and working conjunctively with the most recognizable worker centers in the country because by utilizing worker centers they can evade the rules and regulations that govern their operations.”