Monday, April 24, 2006

New state of the union

After almost a year of brainstorming how to pull restaurant workers and other hourlies into a formidable new labor movement, organizers intend to jump-start the process this week with a primetime push for higher wages. Unionization vets who dropped out of the AFL-CIO in frustration last fall are commencing a high-profile crusade called Make Work Pay!, with the goal of enlisting 50 million service workers in a collective demand for better wages and benefits.

The organizers, a new age federation called Change to Win, plan to trumpet the cause by advertising in the sort of media where you might see a Ford, McDonald’s or Intel ad, and by holding organization drives on worksites in 40 cities. No foodservice operation was identified as one of those sites, though the industry’s hourlies are clearly a target.
The improbably named Anna Burger, chairwoman of the six-million-member Change to Win federation, specifically cited those “who harvest and serve our food” as likely recruits and beneficiaries.

The group’s stated objective is securing the remuneration and benefits that will catapult on-the-clock service people—those whose jobs can’t be outsourced because they’re essentially to our economy, in the view of the CtW—squarely into the middle class.

The effort reverses the traditional strategy of the old-guard unions: Organize first, then use the strength of numbers to wrest concessions.

It’s also a departure because it uses mainstream tactics. This isn’t a crusade that will be waged with buttons, flyers or union jackets. CtW is looking to buy space on major media like the hot cable stations (though it’s already been turned down by MSNBC and Comedy Central, which said the spots were too political) and print media.

Even its message was crafted with mass-market appeal. The ads call attention to CEO pay, a point of reference that strikes many rank-and-file employees as outlandish and unjust because the sums are almost unfathomable. The campaign points out that CEO compensation increased 27.5% last year, to an average W-2 of $11.3 million for the suits in the corner offices. From there, it’s just a short leap to outrage they’re making that kind of money, when lots of families are looking at today’s gas prices and almost audibly whimpering. Why shouldn’t workers have more of that largesse?

If you want to read more about the push to organize your workers, check out CtW’s new website, It’s good you have the link right there, because you might get confused if you google. You’re likely to call up stories or websites related to another union-recruitment drive targeting restaurants, this time by the International Workers of the World, known in a different era as the Wobblies. Like the CtW, it professes to serve workers without regard to their industry, for the betterment of all wage-earners. “One big union!” is its motto, as you can see from its website,

Whether the challenge comes from the Wobblies or CtW, it looks as if this is going to be a period of increased union activity for restaurants. The organizers have aired their offensive strategies. Quick: Summarize the industry’s defense.

Um, er...

Enough said.

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