The United States’ workforce has seen momentous changes over the last four decades. Take the manufacturing industry, for example.  As this sector declined in the U.S., its labor force shrank, and its once powerful unions withered. Simultaneously, there has been an increase in the number of lower paying and harder-to-organize jobs in the service sector.

The unique and dynamic needs of such workers have given rise to a new form of labor organizations.  Meet the growing “alt-labor” movement: today’s emerging ecosystem comprised of the latest variety of workers’ rights organizations. Unlike 501(c)(5) labor unions, most alt-labor organizations are 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Thus, they cannot engage in collective bargaining on behalf of workers or formally organize legal strikes. Instead, they pursue a variety of other strategies centering on litigation, education, and industry-wide advocacy.

For example, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) undertook a six-year lobbying campaign in New York to pass better protections for domestic workers. Similarly, the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) has pursued a legal strategy of suing restaurant owners for wage violations and used the legal settlement process as an opportunity to negotiate additional rights for workers.

Foundation funding for workers’ rights

Unlike labor unions, alt-labor nonprofits are not financially sustained from membership dues. Instead, they rely on the same kinds of funding streams as traditional community-based nonprofits: individual donations, volunteers, and support from institutional philanthropy. 

Funding to workers’ rights organizations increased since the 2008 financial crisis.

According to Candid data, funding from large foundations to workers’ rights nonprofits more than doubled between 2007 and 2019, from $14.5 million to $35.6 million. This isn’t surprising when you consider the recent historical trends in funding for these organizations, which have increased continuously—with a notable dip in 2013 and a peak of $49 million in 2017.

Read the full article about workers’ rights nonprofits by Guy Mika at Candid.