Fast Food Protests Fall Flat, Again

Ryan Williams Senior Advisor, Worker Center Watch
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After a year of staging faux protests and made-for-TV publicity stunts, Big Labor appears to have lost its PR battle to organize service industry workers.  Over a year ago, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) kicked off its campaign to organize restaurant workers at the nation’s leading fast food chains.

Big Labor’s campaign to organize restaurant workers culminated with protests in 33 cities last year, a major feat of carefully planned logistics and pre-packaged sound bites.


Recognizing that public sentiment had long since turned against traditional unions, the SEIU partnered with a number of so-called “worker centers” to organize protests and walkouts by restaurant workers in major cities.  Non-profit groups carrying monikers such as “Fight for $15,” “Fast Food Forward,” and “Good Jobs Good Nation” dutifully delivered the SEIU’s message: maligning non-union businesses while calling for higher wages.

To their credit, SEIU organizers and their worker center allies concocted some entertaining – if not outrageous – gimmicks to garner public attention. Activists performed make-believe citizens’ arrests on Ronald McDonald. Other protestors lampooned the Burger King and Wendy’s icons, beating drums and shouting through bullhorns while wearing golden crowns and pigtailed wigs. But the ultimate message of all this street theater – that the minimum wage should be increased to $15 an hour – failed to resonate with anyone but a few left-leaning talk show hosts.

Fast forward to this year and the SEIU doesn’t have much to show for its campaign. Not one of the nation’s 160,000 quick service restaurants has been unionized despite organized labor throwing millions of dollars and countless hours towards the effort. With around 30 workers per restaurant, you would think that convincing half of them to join a union would be easy. Not so. Moreover, the American public simply does not support Big Labor’s call for a $15 minimum wage. In fact, a more modest wage increase to $10.10 is a tough sell when Americans consider the associated job losses, as outlined in a recent Congressional Budget Office report. Fifty-seven percent of respondents in a recent poll felt such a tradeoff was unacceptable.

Undeterred, organized labor has rolled out numerous completely unreliable studies and surveys to keep their campaign on life support. On April 1, an SEIU-backed group known as “Low Pay is Not OK” used a gift-card induced poll of workers to conclude that wage theft is rampant across the restaurant industry. The Washington Post rightfully slammed the survey – and the L.A. Times for publishing it – because it lacked any scientific merit or validity, not to mention it promised respondents could “SCORE 100 BUCKS” for participating.

Fresh off this debacle, the SEIU continued its allegations of industry “wage theft” using sympathetic politicians. The first claims of wage theft surfaced in a SEIU-orchestrated press conference in late March led by New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who the New York Post recently characterized as having, “a habit of overindulgence and taking things a step too far when she speaks.” The Post also noted about the recently inaugurated elected official, “She lied on her first day on the job.” This makes her a perfect ally for a union campaign scant on facts but full of bluster.

The phony survey and press conference were part of a larger plan by union leaders to stage protests against restaurants this week, around the one-year anniversary of “Fast Food Forward” campaign expanding nationally as “Fight for 15.” Those protests fell flat and few news cameras showed up this time around to capture paid activists waving signs and calling for arbitrary wage hikes. The media’s newfound disinterest in fast food demonstrations is no accident. The public is more than aware of who is instigating these protests and has since grown weary of both the message and the messengers.

Perhaps the greatest symbol of the union campaign against the restaurant industry happened last month when labor activists celebrated a drop in McDonald’s profits. Organized labor cheered the loss of revenue regardless of its impact on workers or the company’s ability to hire more employees. Behind this puzzling reaction is the inherent truth that the SEIU and other labor groups are motivated by dues and affecting midterm elections, not creating jobs or helping businesses expand. Perhaps this is why their latest campaign is once again falling flat.

Ryan Williams is a senior adviser to Worker Center Watch and a former spokesman for Governors Romney and Sununu.