In Drive to Unionize, Fast-Food Workers Walk Off the Job
Check the article in today’s NYT about the SEIU’s efforts to unionize fast food workers.
A few excerpts are pasted below. Check the NYT for the full article and others of interest.
Fast-food workers at several restaurants in New York walked off the job on Thursday, firing the first salvo in what workplace experts say is the biggest effort to unionize fast-food workers ever undertaken in the United States.
The campaign — backed by community and civil rights groups, religious leaders and a labor union — has engaged 40 full-time organizers in recent months to enlist workers at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Domino’s, Taco Bell and other fast-food restaurants across the city.
Leaders of the effort said that workers were walking off the job to protest what they said were low wages and retaliation against several workers who have backed the unionization campaign. (NOTE FROM HOWARD: any sort of third-party or employee “public” protest is going to include “claims of retaliation” and “whistleblowers.” )
They said it would be the first multi-restaurant strike by fast-food workers in American history, although it was unclear how many workers would walk off the job.
The first walkout took place at 6:30 a.m. at a McDonald’s at Madison Avenue and 40th Street, where several dozen striking workers and supporters chanted: “Hey, hey, what do you say? We demand fair pay.” An organizer of the unionizing campaign said that 14 of the 17 employees scheduled to work the morning shift had gone on strike.
The new campaign aims in part to raise low-end wages and reduce income inequality, and is also an uphill battle to win union recognition. (NOTE FROM HOWARD: Expect to see these Occupy Wallstreet-type themes gain more use.)
Christine C. Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council who has struggled with various measures intended to improve wages and working conditions in the city, expressed support for fast-food workers. (ANOTHER COMMON TACTIC).
“I support fast food restaurant workers’ rights to organize and fight for decent wages,’’ Ms. Quinn wrote in a Twitter message on Thursday morning. (NOTE THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA.)
Jonathan Westin, organizing director at New York Communities for Change, a community group that is playing a central role in the effort, said hundreds of workers had already voiced support for the campaign, called Fast Food Forward.
Mr. Westin said the campaign was using techniques that differed from those in most unionization drives, and was still developing overall strategy. He declined to say whether it would pursue unionization through elections or by getting workers to sign a majority of cards backing a union.
McDonald’s issued a statement about the incipient unionization push. “McDonald’s values our employees and has consistently remained committed to them, so in turn they can provide quality service to our customers,” the company said.
It added that the company had an “an open dialogue with our employees” and always encouraged them to express any concerns “so we can continue to be an even better employer.” McDonald’s noted that most of its restaurants were owned and operated by franchisees “who offer pay and benefits competitive within the” industry.
Even with a union, it might be hard to obtain wages of $15 an hour, and many employers say they would most likely employ fewer workers if they had to pay that much.
Mr. Westin’s group, New York Communities for Change, has played a major role in the recent uptick in unionizing low-wage workers in New York, many of whom are immigrants. In the past year, his group, working closely with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and other organizations, has helped win unionization votes at four carwashes and six supermarkets in New York. (MY EMPHASIS ADDED.)
The sponsors of the fast-food campaign also include UnitedNY.org, the Black Institute and the Service Employees International Union, a powerful union that is playing a quiet but important role behind the scenes.
Several religious leaders are backing the effort.
“I feel I deserve $15 an hour,” said Ms. Archer, 59. “I work very hard.” She said she hoped a union would deliver affordable health insurance and paid sick days.
“My hope is we can all come together in a union without being intimidated,” she said.
TCB Management, the franchisee that operates Mr. Hall’s McDonald’s, and Lewis Foods, which runs Ms. Archer’s, did not respond to inquiries.
Tim McIntyre, a Domino’s Pizza spokesman, said the few efforts to unionize its stores and drivers had fallen flat.
“It’s a fairly high-turnover position, so there’s never been a successful union effort,” he said. “People who are doing this part time, seasonally or as they work their way through college don’t find much interest in membership.”
Richard W. Hurd, a labor relations professor at Cornell, said the organizations backing the fast-food campaign seemed intent on finding pressure points to push the restaurants to improve wages and benefits.
“But it’s going to be a lot harder for them to win union recognition,” he said. “It will be harder to unionize them than carwash workers because the parent companies will fight hard against it, because they worry if you unionize fast-food outlets in New York, that’s going to have a lot of ramifications elsewhere.”
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.