Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Fast Food Flopward

22154002_13751bd6eeWe noted earlier this week that the Service Employees International Union-backed worker centers, following a playbook to organize restaurant workers by an intimidation-laced national card-check campaign, were going to protest fast food franchises. They did, and basically nothing happened—all the “strikes” were stage-managed stunts.

You don’t have to take our word for it: The Associated Press report from New York City on the protests indicates that this week’s actions weren’t all they were promoted to be. The AP reporter explains:

It was a far smaller showing than other recent protests in New York City and it wasn’t clear how many participants were fast-food workers, rather than campaign organizers, supporters or members of the public relations firm that has been coordinating media efforts. Still, the latest rallies reflect the push by labor groups to keep continued pressure on the issue of worker pay.

It’s not at all surprising that the crowd might be overpopulated with professional organizers and BerlinRosen (the public relations firm for SEIU, prominent union-backed New York Democrats, and other unions) staff: As far as anyone — even the labor movement newspaper In These Times — can determine, a sizable number of union-backed “worker center” actions are. Here’s a brief lineup of other “worker center” actions backed by SEIU, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and other labor groups that look less like employee-led actions and more like stage-managed press stunts by professional organizers.

  • According to labor movement newspaper In These Times, SEIU-backed “Fight for 15” campaigns in Seattle and Washington, D.C. had “little evidence of worker-to-worker organizing” and “active workers number[ing] a dozen or less, about the same as the number of paid organizers.”
  • An analysis by a think tank of the backgrounds of arrested protesters at a UFCW-backed anti-Wal-Mart protest indicated that over half had labor union or liberal political backgrounds.
  • Wal-Mart’s own analysis indicated that 20 of its 1.3 million employees—a staggeringly small .0015% of its workforce—participated in “Black Friday” protests in 2013. In pre-protest media pitches, the UFCW’s worker center (OUR Walmart) downplayed the idea of employee involvement, emphasizing support from liberal groups.WorkerCentersWSJ_Santa_Ad
  • If the UFCW/OUR Walmart “Associate Voices” posted on its supposedly “grassroots” web page were any indication, many Wal-Mart associates weren’t eager to work at “Union Market”Where bad service and limited selection cost more!“—as some employees endorsed merit pay for good workers, suggested getting rid of incompetent employees, and complained about Democratic Party politicians the UFCW strongly supported.
  • The AFL-CIO has endorsed worker centers and other so-called “alt-labor” organizations to try to recover private-sector unions’ pathetic position among employees. They run their own group, “Working America,” out of AFL-CIO headquarters, and the organization has been keenly involved backing union-friendly politicians in cities across the country.

Since worker centers came on the scene a couple of years ago, we’ve been warning employees and policymakers that they aren’t much more than old-style labor unions in disguise. (You can see our effort from The Wall Street Journal last December at right.) Now, the national media is taking notice that worker center actions are stage-managed P.R. stunts with little participation from the employees supposedly “on strike.”

Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsSEIUUFCWWorkers Center