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Fast Food Justice

New Pseudo Union has no Bargaining Rights

Through SEIU a non-profit pseudo union will be collecting dues in NYC which is drawing criticism

Brian Young's picture
Jan 10, 2018

For the last 6 years, the Fight for $15 movement has been leading the fight to raise the minimum wage and organize low wage workers. While the movement has gotten minimum wage increases in a number of states, it has not reached the ultimate goal of organizing the millions of low wage workers into unions. Now, a new law in New York City may change that by creating a union lite system for fast food workers.

The new law, which only applies to fast food workers, allows employees to contribute to a nonprofit, non-union entity. The new law also allows these contributions to be made through a dues check-off system, meaning that they are paid directly from the restaurant to the non-profit in the same way that union dues are paid. These nonprofits would not have the right to bargain a contract, but it would give these worker groups a consistent source of funding that will be used to advocate for workers issues like further raises to the minimum wage. Some may call this a money-making scheme which inevitably makes organizing real bargaining units more difficult.

One such group that has sought this recognition is Fast Food Justice. Today they announced that they had signed up 1,200 fast food workers, far exceeding the 500-member minimum needed to qualify for the program. Fast Food Justice seems to be the next step in the maturation of the Fight for $15. The biggest problem in the movement has been that the focus has almost solely been on the $15 minimum wage and not signing up new members for the union. The campaign has cost unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) millions of dollars that they have yet to recoup. While SEIU and the Fight for $15 fought hard for this bill, it does seem a lot like they have given up trying to formally organize fast-food workers. In a way, SEIU is organizing themselves out of the market.

These new labor structures also open up unions to further attacks. One of the biggest reasons that people attack unions is that they say unions are only out for the money and don’t actually represent workers. By establishing a group that has no actual bargaining power, they play into this narrative. While they will have some power in City Hall or in Albany, Fast Food Justice will not do the basic work of a union: bargaining a contract and representing their members in grievances against management. They are asking low wage workers to give up $13.50 per paycheck but will use that money to instead lobby for issues that fast food workers care about. The New York Times reports that some of these issues will be affordable housing, immigration reform, and repairs to the New York City subway.

This new law will also increase the recent trend of unions outsourcing more and more of their work to non-profits. Since these groups are not unions, they are not restricted by many of the laws that prevent unions from taking certain actions during organizing. Much of the Fight for $15 organizing was paid for by unions but done by non-profits. In New York City SEIU contracted out organizing of the Fight for $15 to community groups like New York Communities for Change (NYCC), while unions like RWDSU contracted out organizing the Car Washeros campaign to NYCC and Make the Road NY. This contracting is not without controversy as these organizers were paid less then SEIU and RWDSU’s organizers and often led to strife between the non-profit staff and union officials. With Janus on the horizon and unions like SEIU set to potentially lose millions of dollars in dues, this may not be the best time for them to give up on $15 and a union.

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