On Tuesday, top Democrats and a who’s who of labor activists unveiled the latest attack on American businesses. Joined by Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a confederation of labor groups and their activist allies known as the Center for Popular Democracy launched the benevolent-sounding “Fair Workweek Initiative.” The effort is being led by Carrie Gleason — a longtime activist organizer with deep ties to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union — and purports to ostensibly win “predictable, stable, transparent schedules” for workers. The real goal of this campaign, however, is to support full-fledged union organizing drives within the restaurant and retail industries.
As Bloomberg News reported recently, the SEIU’s Fast Food Forward/Fight for 15 campaign is pressing the National Labor Relations Board to leap over independent small-business owners (franchisees) to bargain directly with parent companies (franchisors). Unions are concurrently pushing the Browning Ferris case at the NLRB toward the same end, seeking to redefine independent contractors in the retail sector. These two cases are part of a larger series of lawsuits and unfair labor practice charges that unions have pursued over the past few years, the majority of which have failed. Similarly, unions have pushed for legislation at the state and local levels to target the franchisee business model.
The CPD, which according to its website is an expert at “merging technical and legal expertise with deep organizing experience,” is now leading this new facet of the larger, ongoing effort to organize the restaurant and retail industries. Following the standard union playbook, worker center allies and other labor leaders appeared with Miller and DeLauro to announce federal legislation that would, if it had a chance of passing a grid-locked Congress, micromanage how independent businesses schedule their employees. Unsurprisingly, the predictable jurisdictions of San Francisco and Vermont have been cherry picked to begin local campaigns for a “Worker Bill of Rights.” Of course, the next phase will be a national public affairs campaign that selects a handful of extreme case studies conducted by labor-friendly academics. These studies and reports will reinforce the unions’ assertions while conveniently demonizing employers that are targets of this carefully disguised organizing drive.
Similar to the other efforts to deconstruct the franchise business model, the unions’ ultimate goal is to establish that scheduling practices constitute joint-employer liability between the franchisor and franchisee, effectively demolishing the franchise business model. If that’s true, then perhaps all small-business owners that use the same software systems for scheduling and tracking hours, or all small businesses that use QuickBooks or similar software systems for payroll could be considered joint employers.
Regardless of the merits of this argument, the joint-employer campaign spearheaded by labor groups is a critical bridge to unionization efforts. Without the coveted joint-employer liability, unions cannot seek neutrality agreements or begin to organize system-wide. Union organizing drives have previously failed for this reason: organizing the entire country, one small business at a time, hasn’t worked. In one fatal swoop, however, labor bosses hope to be able to negotiate with entire restaurant and retail brands. When all the rhetoric over respect, dignity or a “workers’ bill of rights” is stripped away, that is the ultimate pursuit of the “Fair Workweek Initiative” — a beachhead to unionization.
Ryan Williams is a senior adviser to Worker Center Watch and a former spokesman for Govs. Mitt Romney and John Sununu.