Hundreds of fast-food workers gathered Friday, Feb. 9 in Los Angeles, rallying support for a newly created union aimed at ensuring adequate wages, increasing work hours and boosting workplace protections.
The California Fast Food Workers Union will be affiliated with Service Employees Union International Union, which powered the campaign to boost California’s minimum wage for certain fast-food employees to $20 an hour.
Friday’s rally at the South Central Avenue office of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee was held as a membership drive for the new union, which supporters say is the first of its kind in the country.
One industry expert has called it a “fake union” with virtually no teeth.
It won’t be a traditional union involving an election certified by the National Labor Relations Board, so it will lack the protection of federal labor laws that require fast-food employers to sit down and negotiate contracts.
To go the traditional route, they would have to organize store by store, many of which are owned by franchisees. That would involve a long and arduous process, as evidenced at Starbucks, where employees have labored long and hard to unionize 370 stores out of more than 15,000 stores.
“SEIU believes every worker has a right to join a union whether or not they have a collective bargaining agreement at their worksite,” supporters of the new union said. “A worker simply needs to fill out a union membership form.”
Michael Saltsman, executive director at the Employment Policies Institute, called the new union “fake” and said it lacks a funding mechanism and has “no apparent power beyond collecting feedback from the union’s existing supporters.”
“I would submit that they didn’t want to go store by store because they knew they couldn’t win store by store,” he said.
But others, including July Monroy, who has worked at a McDonald’s in Los Angeles for three years, are hopeful for a change she says is long overdue.
“We need to be protected as soon as possible so we don’t get treated like pieces of garbage,” the 40-year-old L.A. resident said. “The AC was out at my location over the summer and the temperature got up to nearly 120 degrees by the grill. Management didn’t fix it until winter.”
California’s fast-food workers have already gained traction in their fight for higher wages.
SEIU’s campaign ultimately led to the passage of Assembly Bill 1228, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law last year.
The legislation, which takes effect April 1 for businesses with more than 60 locations nationwide, will hike the minimum wage for more than half a million California cooks and cashiers to $20 an hour with annual pay increases of 3.5% over the next three years.
That will affect McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box and Subway, among others.
AB 1228 also creates a statewide Fast Food Council that will have the authority to establish sector-wide minimum standards on wages, working hours and other issues related to the health, safety and welfare of fast-food restaurant workers.
“Food prices will have to go up, customers will feel it, and restaurant owners will look for other ways to manage the additional cost while also keeping their small businesses afloat,” said Jeff Hanscom, the association’s vice president of state and local government relations.
The Wall Street Journal reported that fast food prices in California are among the highest in the country and set to rise even higher, thanks to the SEIU-backed wage mandate.
Malcolm Coleman, who works at a Taco Bell in L.A. and another smaller eatery in Burbank, hopes the new union will help him secure more work hours.
“We’re not getting 40 hours,” the 33-year-old LA resident said. “Some weeks I only work 20 hours and there are other coworkers who a lot less.”
Coleman said the wage increase to $20 an hour would make a difference in his life.