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Degree's of separation

Recent NLRB ruling of Mickey D's subpoenaing union consultants forces us to look within.

Kris LaGrange's picture
Mar 18, 2016

This morning in Politco’s daily e newsletter “Morning Shift” which covers labor and employment issues a story highlighted the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) blocking McDonald’s from subpoenaing the records of consultants working on the Fight for $15 campaign.  Part of the reason why unions such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) outsource their organizing to groups like New York Communities for Change (NYCC), who was included in the lawsuit, is that these outside groups are able to do organizing that the unions are somewhat prevented from doing.  Over the years, more restrictions have been placed on what unions can and cannot do when it comes to organizing.  These consultants do not have the same restrictions on them.  This means that their organizers can go places that SEIU’s cannot. In the same way, communications firms like Berlin-Rosen and UCOMM Communications are able to communicate things that the unions are reluctant to. 

As UCOMM Blog reported in August, the NLRB issued a split decision that redefined the definition of workers to bargain with the parent company on a large scale. The decision also extended liability for a franchisee who is not following labor law to the parent company.

 McDonald’s is arguing that Fight for $15 is a nationwide movement aimed in part at tarnishing the McDonald’s brand.  According to Politico, the company had planned to defend itself against joint employer liability by arguing that it moved to protect its brand during the 2012 fast food strikes.  They planned to target the connection between communications firm Berlin-Rosen and SEIU to make this case. 

In the statement from the NLRB they said that by giving McDonald’s the ability to subpoena contractors on the campaign the “documents that could have provided McDonald’s with information about the Charging Parties’ campaign and employees.’”

There are three angles to this story that we would like to highlight.  First and foremost, you just read how the NLRB decision has protected a movement of working people who are trying to better their work life.  Good job to the NLRB. 

 The second issue in this story is the use of subcontractors; Communications firms like Berlin-Rosen who also do work for the National Communications Workers of America (CWA) and District 1 of the CWA and outside organizers like NYCC who do work for SEIU. Communications consultants like us here at UCOMM, work for 25 local unions and 4 labor councils across the Northeast.  We to are considered subcontractors and the decision by the NLRB protects us from liability.  I think we are all in agreement that McDonald’s reputation has been tarnished.  Not just as a result of the Fast Food strikes and the newly formed Fight for $15 movement which has been in the national spotlight and been a part of every Democratic Presidential platform.  McDonald’s has been in a world of shit for years now, not just because of how they treat their workforce but how unhealthy their food is and their constant rebranding to compete with other fast food retailers like Chipotle and Subway which has healthier options on their fast food menu. 

 Third and foremost why couldn’t the SEIU organize fast food employees on their own?  If you work in the labor movement and are part of the Democratic left you really want to believe that it is the average LPN at a hospital in SEIU who is actually in these fast food restaurants talking to workers.  This NLRB decision highlights that the left movement can be complex and that the use of outside consultants like Berlin-Rosen, UCOMM and NYCC show the importance of the cause.  It is a peoples’ movement led by consummate professionals.  The united strength of the average rank and file member of the SEIU and the CWA they are still a major part of the organizing team. It is the unions democratic process that authorized the hiring of subcontractors to push the overall union agenda. So does the NLRB decision expose a sensitive internal flow chart?  A little bit. Did it hurt working people trying to better their work lives? Absolutely not.

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