Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Fast Food Unionization Was a Slow and Steady Race for Organizers

Get ready for labor’s next big campaign: unionizing fast food workers.

On Thursday, 200 fast food workers in New York City protested in front of several restaurants. Organizers are calling their group Fast Food Forward.  As Steven Greenhouse at the New York Times reported:

Workplace experts said it was by far the largest series of job actions at fast-food restaurants ever — part of an ambitious plan that seeks to unionize workers and increase wages at fast-food restaurants across the city.

Other reports indicate that the effort has been in the works for several months, as 40 full time organizers sought to reach out to employees to garner support for the walkout. Organizers say their goal is to raise wages to $15 per hour and unionize the workforce. But this is actually a plan that goes back several years.

In a blog this morning, we’re reminded of the original report of a leaked SEIU document, uncovered in May 2010:

Internal SEIU documents have exposed a December 2009 plan hatched to unionize the nation’s fast food workers.  The SEIU plan details how the purple behemoth plans on targeting fast-food chains in Los Angeles first, the using L.A. and an “east coast” city as a spring board into other cities.

The 2009 memo is enlightening. The SEIU strategy, coming from the Property Services Division, is to ramp up organizing efforts in “the new, low-wage service economy” and to target specific geographic areas. At that time, the group intended to focus on Los Angeles and “an east coast market” and aim to unionize 15,000 in just six months. Some other key elements to the plan included limiting the campaign to the largest chains, reaching out to local officials, and to use rhetoric for a “living wage” to rally the troops. The memo ends:

  • Move fast and furious with an army of 200-300 Staff/MOs/VOs/other volunteer organizers and the necessary number of leads to:
    • Petition for living wage
    • ID leaders
    • Bring workers together within geographies
    • Sign authorization cards
    • File on dozens of restaurants per week

Labor Union Report notes a few good reasons why this type of unionization is a boon for labor:

If unions are successful in unionizing fast food workers, particularly in non-right-to-work states that allow for mandatory dues payments, unions will not only collect union dues from these workers but, thanks to the high turnover, also be able to collect initiation fees every time a new worker is hired.

So how does that compare to the Fast Food Forward campaign?

This is taking place in the similarly union-friendly city of New York. The homepage shouts “We can’t survive on $7.25!” and “Higher Pay for a Stronger New York!” and keeps a petition signature count.  It features videos of workers who are not making a “living wage” and the group has been quick to seek out martyrs for the cause. A slew of local politicians—primarily Democrats running for mayor next year—are backing the protestors.

And according to Greenhouse the organizers are the usual suspects: New York Communities for Change, formerly known as ACORN; United, an advocate for increasing the minimum wage; the Black Institute, whose president and founder,Bertha Lewis, was the former ACORN CEO; and last, but certainly not least—the SEIU.

It’s been a slow slog for union organizers to make it to this point—nearly three years ago, this was just an idea on a piece of paper. Now, unions are ready to launch a full-time campaign to take advantage of more employees in order to fill labor’s bank accounts.

Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsSEIU