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As Fast Food Protests Continue, Unions’ Objectives Become Clearer

On Thursday, fast food workers held yet another round of “Fight for $15” protests. Just as they had done on prior occasions, the workers ‘walked off the job’ (i.e., notified their employers in advance that they would not be coming into work) in order to protest their hourly wages. This time, they conducted the protests worldwide, in over 30 other countries across six continents. These protests have been funded largely by established unions, such as the Service Employees International Union.

At this point, it is becoming clear that the unions’ main objective is not obtaining higher wages for fast food workers. After all, the unions should know that fast food business models could not sustain these wages, particularly where sole proprietors, not large corporations, own many of these restaurants. Unions also should understand that it would be extremely difficult to unionize fast food workers for a number of reasons. Finally, although unions have been funding these types of protests for more than a year, they are nowhere close to accomplishing their stated objective of increasing fast food workers’ minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Rather, it appears that unions are simply using these protests to obtain inexpensive publicity, influence public opinion, and stave off irrelevance (which no longer seems quite as inevitable as it did a few years ago). There are many attributes of these fast food-related protests that help them garner far more media attention than movements supporting other types of workers, including how prominent fast food restaurants are in our culture. This likely explains why unions continue to pour their dues revenue into these protests, despite the fact that it will be extremely difficult for them to succeed. 

For businesses, the key takeaway is that unions are continuing to change their organizing techniques, and that employers must stay up-to-speed. Over the last year, unions have shifted their focus to several surprising new targets, including college football players and foreign automotive employees in Southern ‘right to work’ states. Several years ago, it would have been difficult to envision unions targeting these groups of employees, and it remains somewhat unclear today where unions will turn their attention next. For employers who are seeking to stave off unionization, it is essential to keep up-to-date on these new organizing strategies, because it is difficult enough to defeat a union organizing campaign even when unions do not have a head start.



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