Friday, August 2, 2013

Fast-Food Worker Protests Help Labor Unions, Not Labor

By Diana Furchtgott-Roth

Are national minimum wage protests at fast-food chains a spontaneous reaction to the slow-growing economy and sluggish labor market?
No, these protests are organized by a campaign called Fast Food Forward, led by the worker center New York Communities for Change, funded in part by unions, including the Services Employees International Union. Read about New York Communities for Change.
This was brought home to me when I was on National Public Radio’s show “On Point” with host Tom Ashbrook on Wednesday. Also on the show was Terrance Wise, 34, who has three daughters and has worked at fast-food restaurants for 18 years.
Terrance is not your typical minimum wage worker. Most minimum wage workers move on after a couple of years, because turnover in the fast-food industry is rapid. When I asked NPR how to get in touch with Terrance, I was given the name of his publicist.  A minimum-wage worker with a publicist? That’s something.
Turns out Terrance’s publicist is strategic consulting firm BerlinRosen, which has an impressive list of union clients, including the SEIU. According to BerlinRosen’s web site: “We work with our union clients to develop hard-hitting campaigns that bring together eye-catching member-to-member mail, persuasive tv ads, phone programs, web campaigns and earned media to help deliver your message and win the day.” 
No matter that raising the minimum wage to a “living wage” of $15 an hour, which is what protesters demand, would hurt young and unskilled workers, those employees whom protestors supposedly represent. Fewer people would be hired, and the young and low-skilled would lose job opportunities. 
Protests are occurring in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Flint, Mich. Restaurants that have seen strikes include Burger King, McDonald’s, Domino’s, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Burger King, Domino’s, and Subway.

Strikes have been percolating for months. In April, McDonald’s workers in Harlem went on strike, and last November, workers walked out at Wendy’s in Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn, and at McDonald’s in Times Square.
New York Communities for Change was founded in 2010 after the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN, shuttered its operations due to controversy and scandal. The organization reopened with the name New York Communities for Change under the leadership of Jon Kest, who used to head the New York branch of ACORN, at the same premises on Nevins Street in Brooklyn.
After Kest’s death last December, Jonathan Westin, a former ACORN organizer, became NYCC’s executive director, and director of Fast Food Forward.
Fast Food Forward describes itself as “a movement of New York City fast food workers to raise wages and gain rights at work. It is part of the national movement of low-wage workers fighting for a better future.” Read about Fast Food Forward here
Worker centers such as NYCC purport to represent employees. But unlike unions, they are not selected as employee representatives.
Employees decide whether or not to be represented by an organization; it is not the organization that decides whether to represent employees. Under current law, workers are entitled to choose their agents using a democratic process that usually involves a secret ballot election.
Organizations that sponsor worker centers attempt to represent employees without their consent. Worker centers do not have to file union financial disclosure forms with theLabor Department. That means employees — supposedly represented by the worker centers — do not have access to the organizations’ books to determine their finances.  Some worker centers are tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations—even though unions do not have 501(c)(3) status — and some are funded by unions.
Worker centers use demonstrations, lobbying, and community organizing to bully and shame employees into submission, tactics that unions are not permitted to use. 
The SEIU, which held a National Day of Action to advocate for higher wages on July 24, has contributed more than $100,000 to NYCC. Find SEIU’s 2010-2012 LM-2 reports here.
In addition, NYCC received $353,881 from the United Federation of Teachers between August 1, 2011 and July 31, 2012. Find Teachers AFL-CIO, Local 2’s (UFT) 2012 LM 2 here.
So the SEIU is skirting the law by paying the NYCC to do what the union, under current law, is not permitted to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment