Big labor spending big bucks on co-ordinated fast food protests

They’re back, and they’re expensive.

Protests outside fast food restaurants flared up in cities around the country Thursday, organized by groups with plenty of ties to prominent labor unions. The front groups organizing the protests — with names like Citizens Action of New York and Fast Food Workers United — use a mix of Occupy Wall Street populism and Big Labor tactics to draw attention to their cause.

But the real goal seems to be drawing more members into the union, rather than generating better working conditions for America’s legions of burger-flippers.

The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, is one of the biggest backers of the effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and to unionize fast food workers. The union is heavily invested in the effort, having spent more than $38 million, directly and indirectly, in 2013 alone.

“Economics have driven this campaign since its inception more than two years ago. The SEIU has dumped millions of dollars into quasi-union worker centers to create the mirage of an organic movement,” said Ryan Williams of Worker Center Watch, a nonprofit that tracks union spending and opposes efforts to raise the minimum wage.

Worker Center Watch recently tallied the SEIU’s expenditures on fast food protests by sorting through disclosures filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

According to their own reports, SEIU spent more than $9.1 million on directly organizing fast food workers’ protests in 2013.

The union organized “fast food workers organizing committees” in seven states last year to direct the protests and other activities.

Separately, the SEIU funneled more than $14.7 million to so-called “workers centers” — nonunion groups that don’t have to follow national labor laws and are therefore free to engage in disruptive protests and other tactics unions are barred from using.

The union spent another $7 million on legal fees, about $2 million on public relations and $2.5 million on manufacturing studies and reports from think tanks to back up their claims about the benefits of higher wages, according to Worker Center Watch’s analysis.

The union and its workers centers brought all those elements to bear Thursday, with protests held in most major American cities. In Philadelphia, Boston and elsewhere, protesters were arrested after shutting down streets and causing disruptions — events sure to draw more attention on social media and in news coverage.

Wisconsin Jobs Now, a workers center that got $45,000 in SEIU funding in 2013, tweeted pictures of protesters in Madison.  

The Texas Organizing Project, which received more than $600,000 from SEIU in 2013, tweeted pictures of protesters in Houston waving banners outside a McDonald’s and getting arrested by local police.

Other SEIU-funded projects, such as like the Seattle-based Working Washington — $2.5 million from SEIU in 2013 — and Grassroots Illinois Action — $250,000 from SEIU in 2013 — joined in as well.


By Eric Boehm |


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