Fast Food Justice Wins Checkoff in New York City

Little Rock   New York City passed a first-of-its-kind, one and only ordinance last year in an effort to help fast food workers in the city who have been trying to organize under various banners since the Fight for $15 campaign began. The ordinance required employers – in this case, fast food companies – to allow payroll deductions to be processed for membership dues payments to a nonprofit that was not a union or engaged in collective bargaining but was advocating for workers rights.

Fast Food Justice, a nonprofit in New York City meeting those requirements has succeeded in getting 1200 fast food workers to sign such pledges in order to trigger the requirement. These workers have agreed to pay monthly dues to the organization of $13.50 per month. Reportedly, the effort was supported by the Service Employees International Union, which has been the organizer and paymaster of such campaigns for almost all of these efforts in recent years.

Leaders of Fast Food Justice who did the work are of course happy and wild, enthusiastic congratulations to all of them for doing the work and getting the job done. The National Restaurant Association says that it will sue and that the ordinance discriminates against fast food employers, so this may be delayed in court or thrown out completely. The New York Times quoted someone from the National Employment Law Project saying that this accomplishment was important as a step forward towards “sustainability.” Professor Janice Fine, a respected labor scholar, colleague, and friend, said it was “proof of concept,” and that is certainly true, given that the barrier was set high under the ordinance and many believed it would not be achieved, so she’s right as rain on that.

Janice was also quoted further saying, “When I speak to people in other cities, they get really interested. They can imagine a law like this one where they are.” Frankly, while we applaud the success of Fast Food Justice in New York City, Janice and any others asked need to advise organizers to go another direction.

Why should Janice and I say this? Let me list the reasons.

  • It is almost the identical amount of work, perhaps a little more, to get workers to sign dues authorizations to their credit/debit cards or banking accounts.
  • There is no threshold or time barrier to dues being collected other than what the organization sets and the members allow, as opposed to this precedent. [See similar threshold for Texas state workers that only CWA could ever climb until 1992!]
  • This is a highly mobile workforce that will move from operator to operator so employer specific checkoff like this is not as advantageous as direct deposits by the workers. [Can you imagine how much time and trouble it will take Fast Food Justice to get Arby’s to pick up the deduction for a former Papa John worker, when the worker moves to a new job?!?]
  • Direct payment from the workers entails no bars on the type of activity the workers can pursue both on and off the job, both as a workers’ organization or for that matter as a union.
  • There is no legal question or any governmental authority that can challenge direct payment and dues deductions from workers to an organization, since this is constitutionally protected and personal.
  • All forms of employer dues deductions are under attack so whenever we can take the employer out of the equation when a worker decides to join and support an organization – or union – that’s a better course.

So, congratulations Fast Food Justice, and good luck bringing justice to fast food workers, but for those organizations trying to sustain such work, go a better route by directly enrolling workers and facilitating their dues payments through their personal financial tools.

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Fifteen Dollars for Fast Food Workers – More to Come?

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Fast-food workers and supporters gathered on Wednesday in Manhattan to watch a live video of the wage board’s decision. The governor hailed it as an example of New York’s progressiveness. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

New Orleans   Fast food workers in New York State got some great news after a three year campaign. The wage review board set up by Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced, as expected, that it will recommend a $15 wage for many fast food workers in New York State. The increase, once approved will stair step the wage up to $15 over the next six years statewide by 2021 and in New York City will accelerate faster and reach the $15 per hour number in three years by 2018. This is unquestionably a huge victory for service workers and their unions and their community-based partners, like New York Communities for Change, formerly New York ACORN, and the Working Families Party. Hip-hip-hooray!

The wage increases will impact fast food workers working in the big chains with 100-stores or more, so clearly the MacDonald’s, Taco Bell’s, Popeye’s, Burger King, and the like. Outfits like MacDonald’s have already agreed to go to $9 now and $10 next year, so they seem resigned to reality. Reports indicate that there are 180,000 fast food workers in New York State. It is unclear how many are employed in the 100-plus-store chains, but presumably this number would approach or exceed 100,000 workers.

The $15 per hour minimum wage has now won favor and is on an implementation timeline in Seattle, Los Angeles City and County, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.  The New York plan is the only one that singles out fast food workers rather than all workers in a jurisdiction. Mayor DeBlasio and others in New York City continue to argue for the $15 wage to be spread to all workers, not just fast food workers, and this should put some wind behind their sails. SEIU’s giant New York-based building services local, 32B-J, has announced a strike for airport related workers in their campaign for a $15 per hour wage for contractors there, so the fast food move will be a shot in their arms as well.

God and the government should both know they need it. A report from the nonprofit Tax Foundation found that in cities like Washington, D.C. spending $1 will buy only about 84 cents worth of goods compared to the rest of the country where in places like Mississippi and Arkansas spending $1 will get you about $1.15 worth of goods.

That’s little comfort though. Bill Lipton, the director of the New York Working Families’ Party, was quoted calling the wage recommendation a huge victory for the “99%.” Given the polarized politics of the country and the huge division between rich and poor, it’s worrisome what will happen in the rest of the country, where the fights are still concentrated on winning a ladder to $10 or $11 per hour? We may start having to talk about tales of more than two cities, with the rich and poor divided, and the poor and poorer also divided. Little progress seems forthcoming in Congress on enacting President Obama’s now dusty proposal for a $10.10 minimum wage for example.

This is a clear victory, but there will have to be many, many more of them before New York’s Governor Cuomo’s words that “other states will follow” can come true. A victory in New York for 100,000 workers helps the 99% in New York, but that hardly moves a decimal point in the rest of the country, and the 98.9% are still desperate for a raise. Celebrate for the day, but there’s a lot of work still to be done tomorrow!

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