Fast Food Fantasies

May 20, 2014 - 1:00pm

Executive Director, Labor Policy

fast food strike by Patrick T. Fallon.JPG

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
Photo: Patrick T. Fallon for Bloomberg

Crossposted from Workforce Freedom Initiative's blog

As this blog reported recently, labor unions and their so-called worker center allies planned a ‘day of protest’ on May 15 as part of their ongoing campaign against employers in the fast food industry. However, despite publicly boasting that the protests would expand to at least 150 cities and more than 30 countries, the real number seems to have fallen well short of organizers’ claims.

As part this campaign, worker center groups like Fast Food Forward and Fight for $15 have crafted a false narrative about the fast food industry, including spurious claims of “wage theft,” and called for an inflated minimum wage of $15 per hour. Boisterous, made-for-media events like last Thursday’s protests are meant to ratchet up pressure on employers and advance the ultimate issue of union representation. 

Notwithstanding the media coverage and clever public relations efforts, the protests did not reach as many cities or countries as their organizers proclaimed in the run-up to them.  According to one nationwide newspaper, the protesters numbered in the “hundreds,” which does not seem all that high when compared to the 10.6 million individuals working in the fast food industry. Moreover, some of the ‘protests’ involved just a handful of individuals standing outside of restaurants, and some accounts revealed that many of the protesters do not even work in the fast food industry at all. Others reported that “no employees…were observed walking out and going on strike.”  As with previous worker center ‘strikes,’ few actual employees seem to have taken an interest.

These less than impressive results must be a bit disheartening to the SEIU, which has spent millions of dollars supporting worker centers and other allied organizations. A quick look at the SEIU’s financial disclosure forms from 2013 reveal that it disbursed over $16 million to such groups, while another report compiled for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shows that sympathetic foundations have added over $50 million to the worker center movement in recent years. 

The financial and organizing support provided by the SEIU has been obvious to many observers and even recognized in media reports about the fast food protests. However, too often these accounts focus on the protesters’ street theater and demands for inflated wages rather the real reason for the SEIU’s support, which is unionization. Although the May 15 protests failed to live up to the inflated claims of organizers, it is certain we will see more attempted “strikes” before the year is out. Like throwing good money after bad, the unions have spent too much time and effort to give up on worker centers just yet.

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Executive Director, Labor Policy