FederalIssuesLocal NewsStatewide NewsTexas’ Workers Defense Project Hit with Official Department of Labor Complaint

The Austin-based non-profit has been slapped with a complaint alleging that it's violating its tax status by behaving as a labor union.
August 9, 2019
On Thursday, a complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Labor against the Workers Defense Project (WDP) — a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which says it’s a “membership-based organization that empowers low-income workers to achieve fair employment through education, direct services, organizing and strategic partnerships.”

The complaint, filed by the Alliance for Economic Freedom (AEF), contends that WDP has been operating as a labor union which is prohibited under its non-profit status. Labor unions file under a different tax status — that of 501(c)(5).

Organizations that fall under the 501(c)(5) must disclose considerably more detailed financial information, whereas currently WDP only has to file a 990 form.

A union is required to file an LM report in which it must classify based on how much money it brings in annually. A union’s specific financials must be disclosed where a non-profit does not.

But WDP has operated as a non-profit since 2002, lobbying companies (mostly construction) to improve working conditions and benefits for their employees.

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The complaint points specifically to the “Better Builder Program” (BBP) — which the WDP spearheaded the advocacy for — implemented by the City of Austin a couple of years ago with its “Expedited Building Plan Review.”

One of the leading advocates of the BBP within the Workers Defense Project is current Austin City Councilman Greg Casar who served as the organization’s policy director.

The program establishes criteria that must be met by the employer in order to become certified.

The AEF’s press release says that projects BBP certified have their permit approval process “fast-tracked through the city ‘from months to hours.’”

The Texan reached out to the City of Austin’s permitting department to find out what exact benefits BBP certification yields — but they did not respond at the time of publication.

Requirements to become certified consist of paying employees a “living wage” designated at $13.50 per hour; completion of Occupation Safety and Health Administration training, 10 hours for workers and 30 hours for supervisors; providing workers compensation insurance, health insurance, and paid time off; and additional compliance measures such as a $1.25 per square foot of the project fee or $5,000 a month until “the project reaches substantial completion.”

The AEF’s press release says that under the program, non-residential projects which are either 75,000 square feet and above and/or $7.5 million or above in cost must provide BBP certification or one that contains equivalent standards in order to be approved.

This conduct and these requirements, the complaint alleges, fall under the purview of a union and thus WDP should be reclassified as a union organization. Should this happen, WDP could have to back date all financial reports from the date they were deemed to have started the prohibited activities, among other possible requirements.

“Workers Defense Project is what is known as a Worker Center, and part of a nationwide shift to the policy-oriented approach of modern-day unions,” said Rusty Brown, vice president of the Alliance for Economic Freedom. “These organizations have popped up around the country as a way to conduct organizing activities outside the scrutiny of the Department of Labor and legal requirements of a labor union,” Brown concluded.

The Workers Defense Project did not return a request for comment by the time of publication. 


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.