Tag Archives: dues checkoff

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.


Unbelievable: Right-to-Work in Michigan

New Orleans   Virtually in the blink of an eye, despite huge divisions on the street and throughout the state, somehow, unbelievably, Michigan is now, like the solid south and some of the West, the 24th state with a so-called “right-to-work” law.  The law, signed yesterday, takes effect in the spring of 2013.

In fact for many workers under collective bargaining contracts I suspect, without knowing for certain, that the full impact will not take hold until existing agreements expire and new contracts bar inclusion in the language.  In Louisiana despite passage of the law in 1976 some contracts allowed union-shop provisions into 1978 and 1979, until renegotiated.  In Michigan with some long term contracts in auto and heavy industry for up to 5 years, the full impact of this devastating political attack on labor may not be realized for several years.

I could also be wrong since I haven’t seen any discussion of how the new legislation affects existing collective bargaining agreements.  I also may have been wrong in applauding labor’s efforts to push back at the Wisconsin-style efforts in that state and by their governor during the last election.   I had argued early this fall that this was a good strategy for labor under fierce attack to establish that it still had majority support.  Unfortunately in big fights where the fruits of victory may be larger, so also are the risks of defeat.  Many now believe that labor overreached in trying to establish some additional protections in the Michigan constitution for collective bargaining, and labor was defeated soundly.  I had dismissed this as the difficulty of winning constitutional changes as opposed to standard electoral initiatives.  Unfortunately the loss at the ballot box on restoring bargaining rights for low wage home health care workers was also emphatic.  The old advice that when you “slap the bear,” you better bring the bear down seems to prevail here.  The business and right elite within the significant Republican base in Michigan saw this as weakness and made the political decision to call in their chits and deliver a blow to the longstanding political clout of labor by ripping the wallet right out of our workpants and making dues collection infinitely harder.

Unfortunately too many people without union experience don’t get our case.  The right’s argument that letting membership dues be an individual decision seems reasonable to too many of the public and even some number of workers who are more ambivalent in understanding the push-and-shove of collective bargaining between unions and management.  This is the same problem faced by our support of card check recognition systems as opposed to union elections.  Despite the fact that unions are philosophically committed and legally tied to internal democracy, the seemingly undemocratic procedures around our positions about dues and elections are confusing.

Craig Becker, now the AFL-CIO’s general counsel, is right in the Times:

“We’re going to have to do a better job in Michigan and other states where ‘right to work’ is being discussed — that you can’t be in favor of collective bargaining and what collective bargaining represents for ordinary people in terms of some counterweight to growing income inequality and still support right-to-work legislation.”

Many are swearing that the elections in Michigan in 2014 will overturn this.  Having watched and listened to the late Victor Bussie, longtime president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO commit many times during his career after 1976 that he would not retire and not rest until right-to-work was repealed in Louisiana, I can tell you it is best not to wait, but to go to work immediately.  The longer r-t-w, the harder it is to get rid to the damned thing.  A generation of workers in Louisiana has now lived under right-to-work and no one sees a different future now.

Michigan has proven that this can happen anywhere now in these polarized times of political class war.  No one is safe.  Everyone had best be ready.  This seems a fight to the death for traditional worker organizations.