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Stephen Baldwin holds his fist in the air outside a Subway restaurant during a strike aimed at the fast-food industry and the minimum wage in Seattle, Washington Aug. 29, 2013. (REUTERS/David Ryder) Stephen Baldwin holds his fist in the air outside a Subway restaurant during a strike aimed at the fast-food industry and the minimum wage in Seattle, Washington Aug. 29, 2013. (REUTERS/David Ryder)  

Report: SEIU front group paid fast-food workers to protest

A secretive Seattle arm of the powerful Service Employees International Union paid protesters to picket fast-food restaurants for higher pay.

The Freedom Foundation reports that Working Washington, an “alternative labor” group pushing for a $15 minimum wage, gave a $75 check to a striking Subway employee for their participation in protests against the sandwich chain in Seattle.

The check was allegedly obtained by Robert Braun, a consultant representing Subway before the National Labor Relations Board. Working Washington filed labor charges against Subway after the restaurant chain fired a Seattle worker for giving away free cookies to customers. The group claims the firing was in retaliation for the employee’s participation in the labor movement.

The report could not verify whether the practice of paying protesters is a widespread Working Washington tactic, but it did indicate that Braun possesses additional evidence proving the payments were not confined to one protester. Braun did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A series of fast-food strikes have hit Seattle in recent months, with workers demanding $15 per hour for their burger-flipping prowess. A local initiative — financed by Working Washington to the tune of around $430,000 — commands employers to pay that wage to all workers at the Seattle airport. The vote remains too close to call nearly three weeks after the election, but the initiative looks likely to pass.

Working Washington bills itself as “a coalition of individuals, neighborhood associations, immigrant groups, civil rights organizations, people of faith, and labor.” But documents from the Department of Labor indicate that the group is essentially a covert wing of the D.C.-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The president, treasurer, director and secretary of Working Washington are all also well-paid SEIU executives. The group receives regular payments from the national union headquarters, together totaling over $3.5 million between 2011 and 2012. The Daily Caller reported that Working Washington’s website is hosted by an SEIU server.

As public opinion sours on unions and their tactics, large labor organizations like SEIU have begun contracting their work out to “alternative labor” groups with intimate — indeed, often indistinguishable — ties to their parent organizations.

Working Washington is one example of this phenomenon. Another is OUR Walmart, a group organizing strikes and protests against Wal-Mart on Black Friday. While nominally independent, the group is in fact part of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The split allows the union to get around labor laws prohibiting activists from picketing a company for more than 30 days.

Working Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

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