Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
January 11, 2017
A labor front group known as the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United released a politically-motivated “report” on January 10 that purports to show poor working conditions at CKE Restaurants, which just so happens to be run by the nominee to be Secretary of Labor. However, given ROC’s record of dubious assertions and questionable methodology, this document should be taken with a rather large grain of salt.
As this blog has highlighted for several years, labor unions have resorted to using so-called worker centers like ROC in their efforts to reverse a 60-year decline in union membership. These worker centers are usually organized as nonprofit, “charitable” organizations, claiming to provide education or training services. However, they often act like unions in many respects and frequently seek to tarnish the reputations of employers caught in their sights. In this they are aided by their denial of official union status because they can harass businesses while avoiding the restrictions on picketing and boycotts established by the National Labor Relations Actas well as the worker protections established by the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
With respect to ROC, it has targeted specific restaurants with a parade of reports and publications that paint a pretty grim picture of working conditions in the industry. Many of the allegations in these reports are based on what are referred to as “surveys” of restaurant workers. However, a closer look reveals that these surveys are far from scientific and often consist of little more than seeking respondents via social media, which results in a less-than-random sample, to say the least. Indeed, it remains unclear if respondents are actually employees of the industry at all. Similar “methodology” was used in the CKE report.
A more rigorous survey by the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) offers a somewhat different view of the situation. That survey was based on confidential phone interviews with bona fide CKE franchise employees, and the results overwhelmingly suggest that most of them are actually rather satisfied with their employment. In general, around 90% or more of respondents agreed that CKE taught them valuable skills, that they felt safe and respected at work, that Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are great places to work, and that they admire the store’s management, among other topics. That’s quite a juxtaposition.
Perhaps the tenor of ROC’s report has less to do with worker dissatisfaction within the restaurant industry than dissatisfaction within ROC that it may soon lose its influence at the Department of Labor. After all, the agency has signed numerous agreements with ROC and included it as a partner in grant awards. This special status may now be coming to an end. Whether this means an end to ROC’s litany of suspect research products as well is another question.