Fast-food strikes, NLRB policies take center stage

A day after the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) controversial “quickie election” rule took effect, low-wage workers across the country took to the streets in an effort to boost their pay and join unions.

The Fight for $15 campaign, supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), set April 15 as the date for the latest round of strikes that began in 2012. The protests include fast-food, homecare, airport, and other low-wage workers, including adjunct professors. Organizers reported that strikes were set for more than 230 cities and college campuses.

The latest protests seem to be an attempt by the SEIU “to build on a number of factors to distract from the fact that despite spending millions of dollars on the fast-food campaign, they haven’t successfully organized any new fast-food workers,” according to J.P. Hasman, an attorney with Armstrong Teasdale LLP in St. Louis.

The new NLRB rule shortens the time between the filing of a petition for a union election and the election. Business groups fought the new rule, claiming it gives unions an unfair advantage by depriving employers of the time necessary to communicate their side of the issue during unionization campaigns.

Hasman said the new rule hasn’t yet unleashed a flood of new union petitions. He said the exact same number of petitions were filed with the NLRB the day before the new rule went into effect as the day the new rule took effect.

Hasman said the SEIU is taking an industrywide approach to entry-level fast-food workers and adjunct faculty in higher education. “Rather than target specific employers, the union is targeting the industry on a regional basis and then seeing if they can garner enough support at any single employer to file a petition,” he said.

“It is believed the SEIU wants to file at multiple stores to build a stronger base instead of trying to negotiate a single collective bargaining agreement at one Burger King or McDonald’s,” Hasman said. “They know that failing at the bargaining table at one single store could hamper their efforts. Their approach is more akin to how they organized the Houston-area janitors as part of their Justice for Janitors campaign.”

In addition to the fight against the new union election rule, business interests oppose what they see as the NLRB’s efforts to destroy the franchise model of doing business. In July 2014, the NLRB’s Office of the General Counsel released a statement saying fast-food giant McDonald’s could be named as a joint employer in complaints stemming from employee efforts to unionize and fight for higher wages.

McDonald’s and other companies that sell franchises maintain they are not joint employers with their franchisees. Instead, they consider their franchisees independent businesses that determine wages and other conditions of employment independent of the corporation.

On April 15, the International Franchise Association (IFA) released a statement calling the SEIU’s involvement in the Fight for $15 protests “a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign designed to mislead the public and policymakers from the blatant and politically motivated overreach of the [NLRB’s] attempt to expand its current joint-employer standard.”

The IFA says an expanded joint-employer standard “would completely eliminate local control of millions of independently owned franchises and other local small businesses.”

“By terminating local control of franchise businesses through an expanded joint-employer standard promulgated by a prounion government agency, the only winners are union leaders and the policymakers beholden to them,” IFA President and CEO Steve Caldeira said.