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How Corporate Forces are Trying to Destroy Groups that Fight for the Rights of Low Wage Workers

Look who the folks who took down ACORN are targeting now.

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The man refused, and Williams began snapping photographs of the flag in front of the worker activists. After the organizers confronted the man with the Soviet flag, he began walking across the street and left the demonstration with Williams. It was apparent to those present that Worker Center Watch wanted to depict the CIW as a fringe organization, even if that meant using an outsider to smear its image. Williams, a former hand on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, would not comment on the flag-waving incident.

“There are a million worker organizations out there that Worker Center Watch could attack, but they’re attacking us because someone is paying them to,” says Greg Asbed, the CIW’s co-founder. “They admit they’re funded by undisclosed businesses, and it doesn’t take much imagination to guess that businesses like Publix and Wendy’s might be among them.”

For worker centers like the CIW, dealing with the cloak-and-dagger tactics of the industry is now part of their job as organizers. When the organization began scaling up its agreement with tomato growers and fast-food chains, news reports revealed that a Burger King vice president had posed as his daughter on the Internet to post angry messages about the CIW, calling them “blood suckers” and “the lowest form of life.” The CIW also found out that a private detective firm had been retained to place one of its investigators, posing as a student, into the ranks of student activist groups supporting the coalition.

Other worker centers have been subjected to similar stunts. In 2012, Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying firm retained by Wal-Mart, was caught sending one of its employees, posing as a local reporter, into an event for Warehouse Workers United, a worker center based in Southern California.

The assault on alt-labor is multifaceted. Last July, a letter sponsored by Representatives John Kline of Minnesota and Phil Roe of Tennessee called on the federal government to investigate “the line between so-called ‘worker centers’ and labor organizations.” Following this letter, a range of business-friendly groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Capital Research Center, a GOP think tank, issued similar reports tying worker centers to labor unions. “Some alt-labor tactics are as simple as creating union front groups to pressure companies into taking away the secret ballot from workers, making unionization easier via a card-check election,” claims F. Vincent Vernuccio in the Capital Research Center paper.

Littler Mendelson, a firm long associated with unionbusting, has tangled with ROC in court over its picketing of New York restaurants. In September, to the delight of fast-food lobbyists, the House Education and Workforce Committee, headed by Congressman Kline, invited Littler Mendelson to make a presentation at a hearing about the role of worker centers. “On behalf of the National Restaurant Association, we thank you,” read a letter from lobbyists with the association to Kline after the hearing. Notably, the hearing was called just as several lobbying groups, including the International Franchise Association, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and Cracker Barrel, disclosed that they had instructed their Capitol Hill representatives to start monitoring issues relating to worker centers.

The attacks occur with some frequency, as new groups crop up to undermine worker centers. Picking fights with restaurant workers has been good business for out-of-work GOP operatives.

There is the Workforce Fairness Institute, a reconstituted anti-union front now managed by WWP Strategies, a firm made up of Republican campaign staffers that include Katie Packard Gage, Mitt Romney’s deputy campaign manager in 2012. The Workforce Fairness Institute maintains ties to the Association of Builders and Contractors, an anti-union lobby made up largely of engineering and construction firms, and serves as a clearinghouse for opposition research on worker centers.