Fast food protest group denies its own workers the right to protest

AP Photo – PROTESTS: The Restaurant Opportunities Center United prohibits its own employees from protesting management.

Workers and organized labor groups took to protesting fast food companies last week in a multi-state effort to build public support for a $15 an hour minimum wage hike.

But a peek into one group’s own labor contract reveals a delicious irony.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center United, which claims the support of 13,000 restaurant workers and with at least 11 affiliates across the country, forbids its own workers from protesting against management.

“It is mutually agreed that there shall be no strikes, lock-outs, sit downs, sit ins, slowdowns, sympathy strikes,­ picketing, stoppage or interruption of work, or direct or indirect interference or interruption of the operations of the Employer during the term of this Agreement,” states a two-year collective-bargaining agreement dated Jan. 4, 2013.

What’s more, ROC employees are represented in the collective-bargaining agreement by the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. The guild, or labor union, represents seven newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“We represent a wide variety of newspaper employees and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers coordinators in Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Miami,” reads the guild’s website.

Mike Paranzino, communications director for a labor watchdog called ROC Exposed, said it makes sense for ROC to show they’re open to unionization. But for their employees to choose a newspaper guild is another story.

“I’ve never seen a reporter who’s represented by the same union disclose a conflict of interest when writing about labor issues,” Paranzino told

ROC Miami receives support from its parent organization, which, in 2009, received $275,00 in federal taxpayer grants from the U.S. Department of Labor after misleading the Internal Revenue Service about its tax-exempt status. The group also received  $180,000 in government grants during 2010 and another $60,000 in similar grants during 2011, according to investigative reporter Eric Boehm.

A protest video filmed outside of a Miami-area McDonald’s March 18 features Jean Souffrant, ROC Miami’s research and policy coordinator.

Souffrant, who told last year that ROC Miami is “on the forefront of talking to (state) legislators and doing grassroots lobbying,” said he is fed up with fast food companies making billions of dollars in profits while workers receive poverty-level wages.

That message is not lost on the White House. President Obama, who supports a $10.10 minimum wage for federal contractors, recently issued an executive order expanding overtime pay for some salaried employees, including fast food workers.

The Congressional Budget Office concluded that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for all industries — $5 less than the fast food protesters’ “Fight for 15″ initiative — would result in 500,000 lost jobs.

“I often hear advocates of a higher minimum wage say employers can afford to pay their workers more, but this ignores the decisions employers make in the hiring decision,” Randall Holcombe, an economist at Florida State University told in an email.

“An employer will hire an employee only if the employee returns more in value to the employer than it costs the employer to make the hire. Raising the minimum wage will price low-skilled workers, who are most in need work, out of jobs,” he said.

Contact William Patrick at [email protected]

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