If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: SEIU Befriending Franchisees

We have reported on the SEIU’s campaign for $15-an-hour wages for fast food workers. Seeking to have franchisees pay nearly twice the minimum wage for historically minimum wage work is not the way to befriend fast food franchisees. Now, the SEIU is extending a proverbial french fry to franchisees in hopes of forming an alliance against franchisors.

The SEIU recently launched the “We Are Main Street” initiative to supposedly highlight how the franchise system negatively affects franchisees. Up until this point, the union has pushed to hold the franchisees accountable for raising the minimum wage. Realizing their efforts have failed, the union’s focus has now shifted to strengthening franchisee rights. The initiative’s website states that small-business owner franchisees lack business protections and accuses franchisors of taking away franchisees’ businesses unfairly, blocking franchisees from selling their franchise at a fair price, and retaliating when franchisees join together.

The SEIU’s attempt at forging a friendship with franchisees is an odd proposition given that franchisees are often small-business owners who oppose unions. However, this isn’t the first time the SEIU has tried to cozy up to franchisees. In California, the SEIU recently supported a bill that expands franchisee rights.

While the SEIU and franchisees both endeavor to expand franchisee rights, they still remain opposed on other fronts such as whether franchisors should be treated as joint employers and increasing minimum wage.

The SEIU has publicly challenged franchisors such as McDonald’s, which recently took the position that it is not responsible for employment decisions at franchised locations. This position may be the SEIU’s way of negotiating on behalf of workers across all McDonald’s restaurants rather than trying to fight labor disputes at individual franchises. With the NLRB’s general counsel saying that it may name McDonald’s as a joint employee with franchisees in labor charges filed against the company, a lengthy battle is in sight.

Unions are always fighting to stay relevant in a world where traditionally unionized industries are slowly shrinking. And so they turn to new industries, like fast food. With the vast number of fast food workers in America, organizing this industry would result in an enormous payday for unions. Since dues money is the gas that fuels a union’s engine, unions will continue to strategically try to organize the fast food industry by any means necessary – even if it means trying to befriend an enemy.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.