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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Mike Garcia Stood Strong for Low Waged Workers

Mike Garcia

New Orleans   We used to kid a long time and excellent organizer who worked for our sister union, Local 880. In an early session as a newly hired organizer being handed a standard training document extracted from remarks that Cesar Chavez had made about the importance of the dues system in building the farmworkers’ union, he had innocently asked, “Who was Cesar Chavez?” The story was both shocking and unsettling. On one hand those of us only a decade or so older wondered, how could anyone not know something about the legendary Chavez, the grape boycott, and the struggle to organize the California fields? On the other hand, it hit us all like bricks how quickly working peoples’ history is smothered in silence.

The State of California has declared a Cesar Chavez Day, and that’s well and good, but it’s Mike Garcia who is on my mind. Mike passed away this week. He was a great labor leader and an excellent organizer. He was a comrade and friend. His song should be sung. His work and memory needs to be raised to the sun, because his shadow will be long.

I first Mike in the late 1980s in the mountains outside of Denver. He had come over to Colorado from California as a trustee and then president of SEIU Local 105 to try and build a presence and power for janitors in Denver and Kaiser healthcare workers. Jon Barton, who had worked for several years as an organizer with Local 100 until his homesickness for California had pulled him back west, was Mike’s lead organizer, and they had invited me out to a staff retreat, training, strategy, and planning session for the local somewhere near Evergreen. As Jon had suspected, Mike and I were kindred spirits and hit it off, beginning a permanent friendship and alliance both within the SEIU and with ACORN.

Until he was forced to retire several years ago to deal with health issues, Mike ended up leading a 40,000 member amalgamated service workers’ union of janitors, security workers, landscapers, and other lower waged workers built out of sweat, struggle and steel over decades. Before Jon had come to Louisiana, he had done a stint with a small, craft union trying its hand at organizing Silicon Valley, and it was exciting to be in regular touch with him and Mike when they reunited in California to systematically, and largely successfully, organized janitors in major companies in the Valley. I still can’t read about Apple and other mega-rich tech companies talking about their generous employee benefit programs without remembering how hard – and corruptly – they fought against fair pay and decent standards for their janitorial and service subcontractors.

These campaigns made Mike’s reputation as an organizer and his leadership of Justice for Janitors with his organizing team around the state including the decisive strike in Los Angeles at the turn of the century marked his stature as a unique, unbending labor leader in California. For years Los Angeles was part of my regular route, and there weren’t many times that I didn’t reach out for Mike to catch up, if our schedules intersected, or spend time with him when we were on the board of SEIU together, catch as, catch can.

I had heard his health was getting worse. I wish I had seen him in recent years. For a last laugh. For old times’ sake. For his advice and counsel. And, just to thank him for his friendship and his life’s work that allowed all of us to stand strong with him and be steadfast to the cause.

For organizers and leaders like Mike, there won’t be any special day, but every day was special in solidarity and struggle.

Si se puede!

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