The House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions is holding a hearing titled “The Future of Union Organizing.” The focus of the hearing is to discuss the increasing importance of worker centers within the union movement—and what their roles really should be. 

First, an explanation: Worker centers are non-profit organizations that provide services for workers in construction, restaurants, retail, food processing, agricultural, landscaping and domestic professions. They have garnered attention of late for assisting employees in these professions with staging what some call strikes in an effort to secure higher wages, better benefits and the right to form unions. 

Right-leaning critics believe that worker centers have no place in this role because they aren’t themselves unions.

“The primary difference between these organizations and the unions that created them is that worker centers don’t deal directly with an employer,” Richard Berman, executive director for the Center for Union Facts, a conservative special interest group critical of union activity, wrote in an op-ed for Forbes. “This allows worker centers to circumvent the National Labor Relations Act’s provisions that regulate how and when unions can picket and can interact with both employees and management.”

But proponents of worker centers disagree, claiming the worker centers are independent, low funded agencies rightfully offering assistance where it’s needed.

“Unions did not create worker centers, and most worker centers receive little or no funding from unions. Often operating on miniscule budgets, many probably wish they were union-funded,” John Logan, professor at San Francisco State University, wrote in a recent column for The Hill. “They help vulnerable workers retrieve stolen wages, improve dangerous and unhealthy conditions, and educate workers about federal and state labor and employment laws.” 

What both sides do agree on, however, is they want an answer to the question: What, if any, is the role of worker centers within the American workforce? And hopefully, the House Subcomittee hearing will answer that question.