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Several labor and allied groups reportedly are planning a series of protests around the country today to call for unionizing employers on a large scale, among other issues. The planned action mimics similar demonstrations in the past that have been largely sponsored by the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) and the SEIU-funded group known as the Fight for $15.
As the Chamber of Commerce has noted in the past, while the Fight for $15 group often emphasizes its desire for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, its real objective is and always has been to unionize the fast food industry. In pursuit of this goal, the Fight for $15 has had limited success in turning out demonstrators for a series of so-called “strikes.”
The group has been fairly quiet since the SEIU cut its budget by 30% a couple of years ago, but one way it has tried to remain relevant is to hitch its banner to other groups’ activities and causes, as it appears to be doing again with a more expansive list of groups, some linked to the important focus on racial equality.
As in the past, today’s protests will seek to denigrate fast food companies and other employers, this time with claims that they are not adequately protecting employees from the coronavirus. But that criticism deliberately overlooks significant efforts businesses have made to keep workers safe, all of which follow guidance from public health authorities.
For example, McDonald’s switched up more than 50 of the processes used at its restaurants to minimize contact with others, and collaborated with franchisees to distribute more than 100 million masks and ample supplies of protective gloves. The company installed shields and other barriers to minimize risk and provided leave for workers. All of these efforts were made to keep them serving meals, keep their businesses going, and employees on the job.
The stated goal of these protests is to keep American workers safe and maximizing their earnings. While we don’t agree with the how unions like the SEIU are seeking to achieve those goals, we certainly understand their importance.
Recently, following the racial unrest and national conversation on the lack of opportunity for Black Americans, the U.S. Chamber, working with local and state chambers across the country, developed an initial agenda to address equality of opportunity for all, as many companies have done for years on an individual basis. Of course, this is a huge long-term undertaking that will require unprecedented cooperation between government, business and other key stakeholders.
It remains to be seen how many people attend the SEIU’s latest round of protests. But as they get underway, it might be helpful to consider the many things that businesses are doing to keep employees safe while also tackling economic opportunity amid huge challenges.