Cornell University

November 30 2012

Grassroots Organizing

Fast food workers part of movement, Margolies says

McDonaldsProtests by New York City fast food restaurant employees are part of a national grassroots-style movement embracing collective representation, according to Worker Institute Senior Associate Ken Margolies.

Demanding higher wages and the right to unionize, workers from Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's and other fast food eateries picketed and protested in Manhattan Thursday.

"This strategy is similar to the one Walmart workers used on Black Friday and is part of a larger movement of low-wage workers to improve their economic positions and treatment on the job," Margolies said. Public actions aimed at influencing policy are often a component of collective representation efforts.  

"Organizing fast food workers is not new, but it has been difficult to win collective bargaining for them using traditional methods under the current labor law."

"That's why unions and community groups are using other strategies that involve pressuring companies to improve wages and benefits industrywide or in a segment of the industry without necessarily seeking collective bargaining," he said in an interview.

"There have been sporadic attempts to organize fast food over the years. In most cases, either the union wasn't able to get enough support or, if the majority of workers voted to begin a union, they couldn't get a contract or the company closed or did something else to avoid dealing with the union," Margolies said.

Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News reported that the Service Employees International Union has hired 40 full-time organizers to lead a union organization campaign among fast food workers.