Hoping to breath some new life and some fresh drama into the minimum wage issue, Time magazine foresees the handful of fast-food strikes going "viral" tomorrow.
"Fast Food Strikes Go Viral: Workers Expected to Protest Low Wages in 35 Cities Thursday" blares the headline to Victor Luckerson's 10-paragraph August 27 post at the magazine's website. Here's how Luckerson opened his piece:
A growing movement among fast food workers to demand higher wages is expected to gain momentum this Thursday as strikes and protests against the country’s biggest restaurant chains spread to the South and the West Coast.
Is it really a growing movement? What statistics bear that out? And who exactly expects said movement to "gain momentum"? Luckerson didn't really elaborate aside from quoting a decidedly enthusiastic labor policy professor who was arrested during the Occupy Chicago protests. What's more, the Time staffer waited until the fourth paragraph to note the labor union organizing and financing the strikes, the SEIU.
Low-wage workers at fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and retailers such as Macy’s are gearing up for a nationwide strike just before Labor Day weekend. The striking workers are demanding the right to unionize and at least $15 an hour in pay, more than double the current national minimum wage of $7.25. Organizers say Thursday’s strikes could touch as many as 35 cities.
“These companies that own these fast food restaurants, they make way too much money off the backs of the employees,” says Dearius Merritt, a 24-year-old worker at Church’s Chicken in Memphis who earns $13 an hour and plans to take part in his first strike Thursday. “I’m in the store every day with these workers that make $7.25…If I’m 30 years old and this is what I have to do to survive, then I deserve a living wage off of it.”
The rumblings against the long-standing economics of fast food began last November in New York, when about 200 restaurant workers went on strike in a one-day protest. By July the movement had ballooned to include thousands of workers across seven other cities, including Chicago, Detroit, and Kansas City. Now, with workers in places like Los Angeles, Memphis, and Raleigh getting involved—with extensive financial backing from the Service Employees International Union—organizers and labor experts expect this week’s strike to dwarf previous protests.
The SEIU, you may recall, also rolled the dice on the 2011-12 Occupy Wall Street movement, which, well, didn't really pan out as expected.
Nonetheless, Luckerson failed to find anyone to rain on the SEIU's parade, instead turning to liberal college professor to insist that "[i]t's absolutely going to continue to grow."
"I see no signs from all the people I’ve talked with that it’s going to falter. At this point it hasn’t reached its peak yet. The energy of the workers, their passion, their commitment, is very, very high. They basically feel like, 'We’ve got nothing to lose,'" Luckerson quoted Steven Ashby of the University of Illinois.
In Chicago, 134 Occupy activists were arrested Sunday when they refused to leave a downtown park. They were held in custody for up to 19 hours, a punishment that Steven Ashby—a labor professor and arrestee—says was inflicted by the Democratic mayor in an effort to break the spirits of the protesters.
“The movement will go on. It will grow,” Ashby said. “Intimidation tactics only make people more determined to fight. The occupation is not leaving.”
In an article at ChicagoBusiness.com, Ashby drew a direct line between the Occupy movement of 2011 and the fast-food strikers of 2013:
While the future of the fast-food and retail worker movement is unclear, the campaign's focus on public demonstrations, social media and broad community support draws parallels to the Occupy movement, said Steven Ashby, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“What's happened in Chicago and New York, with Occupy and the success of the Chicago teachers strike, has really inspired people,” he said. “They give people hope that they can change their lives.
“They're using street action demonstrations and pickets,” Mr. Ashby continued. “It's very bottom-up, putting the workers themselves at the center and saying, 'This is your movement, you take it where you want.' ”
Of course, it's not a bottom-up movement but one carefully orchestrated by labor unions and left-leaning PR shops, as Diana Furtchgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute noted in an August 27 piece for RealClearMarkets.com (emphasis mine):
Since elections, the gold standard in employees' choice, are not serving the union cause, unions are turning to worker centers with names such as Fast Food Forward and Low Pay Is Not OK to organize workers.
The people you see demonstrating in front of your favorite McDonald's on Thursday may well be members of these worker centers, which have targeted 20 cities for demonstrations on August 29, including New York, Chicago, Memphis, Tampa, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, and Austin.
Some fast food workers on radio and TV are trained by union PR firms. I had the honor of appearing on National Public Radio with Terrance Wise, a 34-year old fast food worker, who was represented by publicist Berlin Rosen. The firm has an impressive list of union clients, including the SEIU.
According to Berlin Rosen'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."
Fast Food Forward states on its Facebook page, "Fast food workers nation-wide are going on strike for a better future for their families, their communities and to get our economy moving with again. Stand with them on August 29th."
Fast Food Forward and Low Pay Is Not OK are allied with other worker centers, including Stand Up KC, Raise Up Milwaukee, Fight for 15, Central American Resource Center, MassUniting, Rally for 15, Atlanta Jobs with Justice, Flint-15.
At Low Pay Is Not OK's Web site, people can download a strike kit (Download 15 Steps for $15/hour) and a strike letter ("This is to notify you that today [Today's Date] we're going on strike for one day to demand a $15 an hour wage, for the right to join a union without intimidation, and to protest interference with our protected workplace rights.")
Workers seeking a pay increase would be expected to ask for a 10 percent or 15 percent increase in the hope that the employer would pay that amount rather than find new workers. Fast Food Forward activists do not have to worry about losing their own jobs, so they seek extraordinary wage increases of up to 100 percent.
Fast Food Forward is funded by New York Communities for Change, which was set up in 2010 to replace the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN. ACORN closed down due to financial shenanigans and scandal, but NYCC has the same address and leadership. Jonathan Westin, a former ACORN organizer, directs NYCC and Fast Food Forward.
The SEIU has contributed over $100,000 to NYCC, according to documents filed with the Labor Department. These documents also show that NYCC received $353,881 from the United Federation of Teachers between August 1, 2011 and July 31, 2012.
In other words, the fast-food strike efforts are decidedly top-down, not grassroots, but don't rely on Time magazine to carefully explore the question of the financing of these operations.
It wasn't until Luckerson's final paragraph that he admitted the obvious, a tiny, tiny minority of fast-food workers are presently striking and odds are this will not become a successful movement. Even so, he opted to close with a defiant war cry from a fast-food worker planning on walking out on her job (emphasis mine):
Experts are skeptical that a $15 per hour base wage is likely to be implemented. With almost 2.4 million fast food workers employed in the United States, the number striking is still relatively miniscule. Getting a huge number of people to abandon their posts would be a challenge because they could be subject to immediate firing for missing work as non-union employees. But less dramatic results, like smaller raises from individual franchises and perhaps a modest increase to the minimum wage, might be attainable. If the strikes continue to grow in scale—it’s already the biggest labor movement in the history of the fast food industry—there will be more pressure on fast food companies and even legislators to make some kind of concession to workers. “This doesn’t end at the strike,” says Caroline Durocher, a Subway employee in Seattle who plans to walk out on Thursday. “We’re going to keep going. We’re not going to shut up.”