Could fast-food restaurants be the next target of labor unions?
A Broken Arrow-based labor relations consultant believes so,
based on recent union debates.
"QSR companies are sitting ducks, and they better prepare
immediately for a rapidly changing labor environment," said Phillip
Wilson, president of the Labor Relations Institute and an adjunct
labor relations professor for Northeastern State University.
Such speculation about quick-service restaurants (QSRs) draws
from union politics and intrigue circulating around the 2.2 million-
member Service Employees International Union.
Two weeks ago a leaked memo suggested the fast-growing SEIU might
seek to enter the grocery sector, primary stomping grounds of the
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). New
President Mary Kay Henry disavowed that, only to be confronted with
a leaked December 2009 document suggesting the SEIU sought to
infiltrate the fast-food sector, one thriving segment in this
recession that can't move its jobs overseas to evade union
National Labor Relations Board records point to increased union
focus on the restaurant industry. Wilson said 53 union petitions
have been filed with food services and drinking places so far this
year, just eight short of all those filed in 2009 and equaling the
number sought in 2008. He projects the year-end 2010 tally may soar
"The union movement is in desperate straits and the UFCW has
proven unable to unionize these workers," said Wilson in a telephone
interview. "The SEIU pretty much says we are the best union and we
need to go after these workers. What they'll do is do exactly what
they said. They'll say, 'Oh, no, that's a mistake,' and then go out
and do it."
Several facets of the fast-food industry - high employee
turnover, youthful demographics, transitory job natures, limited
career perceptions - present challenges for union activity.
"Most of those firms hire primarily part-time," said James M.
Kenderdine, professor emeritus of marketing and supply chain
management for the University of Oklahoma Michael F. Price College
of Business. "It means they have a large number of people that work
for them. It also means you can't make enough at one job to support
yourself, so most people are going to have multiple jobs. They're
not likely to have the financial pockets.
"The big weapon that unions have is the ability to strike," he
continued. "There's a lot of people out there that would take those
jobs and chances are the people who would go on strike don't have a
lot of money to hold out a long time."
But Kenderdine said today's economic pressures also provide
steppingstones for union entry.
"As the recession deepens, it could have a counterintuitive
effect and it could make workers more receptive to a union talking
about what we can do if we get organized," he said. "If the union
plays its cards right, it's fought out on the 6-oclock news. The
union doesn't have to spend a lot on public relations, and they've
got a darn good case."
Wilson said large, well-known fast-food chains provide highly
visible targets for national public-relations assaults. …