Fight for $15 Lowers Misses Goals, Lowers Expectations

Five years ago, when 200 New York City fast food workers first walked off the job for $15 an our and union rights, nobody gave us a shot. Since then, we’ve spread this movement to every corner of the country and beyond fast food,” said Steven Suffridge, a Fight for $15 organizer.

Target recently announced that it plans to raise the company-wide minimum hourly wage to $11 by next month and $15 by 2020. Suffridge continues, “We did what they said we couldn’t: we won. We won in the states, in the cities, with the big politicians, and with the big corporations.”

As a capitalist, I am all for someone getting paid as much as the market allows. Maybe $15 minimum wage is right. Maybe it isn’t. What I find interesting is how Fight for $15 takes credit for Target raising its starting wage to $15 nearly 10 years after the Fight for $15 campaign started. With normal adjustments for inflation, is $15 per hour in 2020 really a victory? Shouldn’t it be Fight for $20 in 2020?

As a management-side labor lawyer, I’m continually confounded how Fight for $15 celebrates achieving half of its goal. The other half – the increase the number of dues-paying union members – has failed miserably. Barely anyone in the fast food industry has joined a union since Fight for $15 launched.

So what we’re left with after peeling back this onion is:

  1. A union-funded worker center patting itself on the back because a company will raise its starting minimum wage to a level below the intent of Fight for $15 and
  2. No additional dues-paying members to offset the dues money being funneled into Fight for $15.

This is called diminished returned on lowered expectations. Not a successful, sustainable business model.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at

SEIU Suffers More Setbacks on Fight for $15

The following is from an opinion column in the Sun Prairie Star by Richard McCarty, Director of Research at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

For the past several years, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been dumping millions of dollars of its members’ money into efforts across the country to hike the minimum wage to $15. The membership of SEIU includes many lower-wage workers, such as janitors, security guards, home care workers, and graduate students. Last year alone, SEIU spent $19 million on its Fight for $15 campaign. Is this a good use of SEIU members’ money?

In June of 2014, the Seattle City Council voted to raise the minimum wage in a series of steps to $15 (with annual increases for inflation after the minimum wage reaches $15).

Later that year, the city signed a five-year contract with the University of Washington (UW) to study the effects of the wage increase. The first minimum wage increase of the series took effect in April of 2015. UW researchers found that increase had little impact, which may have been because many businesses were already paying above the minimum wage.

The second increase took effect in January of 2016. This time, UW researchers found that the wage hike negatively impacted workers. In fact, that minimum wage increase caused the average low-wage worker’s income to fall by $125 a month, and the wage increase led to about 5,000 fewer jobs in the city. And Seattle isn’t done yet; the next wage hike takes effect in January next year.

As inconvenient as the UW study is for SEIU and its Fight for $15 campaign, that’s not the only bad news for them: over the past year, three states have rolled back local minimum wage hikes.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted to increase the minimum wage in August of 2015, but the minimum wage increase did not take effect until May of this year due to a lawsuit. The state legislature was displeased with the city’s action, in part because it wants a uniform minimum wage across the state. So, the legislature passed a bill to ban local minimum wages.

After the UW study was released, the governor of Missouri announced that he would allow the bill to become law reversing St. Louis’ wage hike.

Between late 2015 and early 2017, five Iowa counties passed local minimum wage hikes. Once again, state legislators disapproved of the measures, and passed legislation to ban local governments  from setting a minimum wage. The governor quickly signed the bill reversing the minimum wage hikes, but before he did, 10 city councils voted to opt out of their county’s minimum wage increases.

In 2014, the City of Louisville, Kentucky voted to hike the minimum wage; the next year, the City of Lexington, Kentucky followed suit. However, just last fall, the state Supreme Court ruled – nearly unanimously – that cities in Kentucky lack the authority to oversee the minimum wage.

With all of these setbacks – and with new evidence that minimum wage hikes are hurting those that are supposed to be helped – maybe SEIU should stop spending so much time and money playing politics and focus its efforts on representing its members.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at

NYC is Passing Outrageous Laws that Benefit Unions

Car Wash Licenses Cost Ten Times as Much for Non-Union Companies

Local Law 62 was passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor de Blasio in 2015 during a period of intense labor organizing among the city’s roughly 150 car wash companies, many of which are staffed by immigrant, non-union workers. The law made it illegal to operate car wash without a license and gave financial incentives to car wash companies that employed union workers. To get a license, companies need to post a bond which was a guarantee of solvency to cover workers’ wages. Companies whose employees were represented by a union posted a $30,000 bond. Companies whose employees were not represented by a union posted a $150,000 bond.

Thankfully, a federal judge shot down Local Law 62 because it “explicitly encourages unionization” and imposed an unfair burden on car wash companies where workers were not part of organized labor.”

This reminds of the inflated minimum wage laws that have spread across the country in cities like Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Washington D.C. Those laws have two sets of minimum wages: a minimum wage for union employees and a higher minimum wage for non-union employees. The goal for those laws is to make unionization the less expensive way to do business.  in Los Angeles:

Fast Food Workers Can Payroll Deduct Donations to a Charity of their Choice

New York City Council approved a bill allowing fast-food employers to withhold up to $12 per month from a worker’s paycheck and remit that amount to the “non-profit organization” of the employee’s choice. The purpose of this legislation, per Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-Queens) is “to make it easier for employees to support advocacy organizations working on their behalf.”

While the bill expressly states that money collected is not to go to a union, it likewise expressly states that the money can be funneled to Fight for $15. This is clever. If all fast food workers made the maximum contribution, the SEIU (who thus far has spent $90 million on the failed Fight for $15 campaign) stands to receive over $9 million per year in “contributions.”

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at 

Fight for $15 Leader Paid $146,000 to Fight, Not Protest

By now readers of this blog have heard about worker centers and the worker center called Fight for $15 whose mission is to establish a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. Anecdotally, the Fight for $15 leader (who is the subject of this post) said that $15 was chosen as their preferred minimum wage not because of solid economic theories but because it “made sense.” According to him, “$10 was too low and $20 was too high so we landed at $15.”

Back to your regularly scheduled programming. Fight for $15 staged a protest against McDonalds in Chicago in mid-May. The leader of Fight for $15 is Ken Fells. When Mr. Fells was asked whether he was paid to attend the “March on McDonalds” in May, he said, “No I am not.” This is parsing words at its finest.

Fight for $15 is a worker center affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Fight for $15 is not a union, and thus does not have to file paperwork detailing its income or expenses. The SEIU, on the other hand, is a union and must detail its income and expenses on a Form LM-2. The SEIU’s 2016 LM-2 lists Mr. Fells as its “deputy organizing director” who is “on loan” to the “Fight for $14” campaign with a salary of $146,000 per year.

Later in the interview, Mr. Fells divulged some of the tactics his Fight for $15 activists employ to pressure fast food restaurants. For example, when a restaurant fires an employee, “McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King – these places specialize in selling burgers. We specialize in fighting. So it’s hard for them to fight us and sell burgers at the same time,” he said. “So if they were to fire one of our workers or cut one of our worker’s hours, we try to have a reasonable conversation with them because we’re very reasonable individuals.” If that doesn’t work, then we’ll bring in 150 people and shut their store down day after day after day.”

To date, Fight for $15 has spent millions of dollars trying to disrupt the fast food industry without a single union organizing victory to its credit.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at 

Teamsters Picket Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Golf Tournament

NetJets’ (headquartered in Columbus, Ohio) workers who are represented by Teamsters Local 284 (Columbus, Ohio) launched an informational picketing campaign at the PGA’s Memorial Tournament (Columbus, Ohio).

The Teamsters represent aircraft mechanics, maintenance control, aircraft fuelers, aircraft cleaners, and stock clerks at NetJets. The union is mad that the company is not giving into its demands during negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement. One of the arguments is that NetJets does not employ enough mechanics, i.e. workers who would be required to join the union and pay dues to the union. Another is that NetJets mechanics do not make $15 per hour while alleging the CEO of NetJet’s parent company (Berkshire Hathaway Energy) received $17.5 million in compensation.

The public shame campaign, which was held at the non-commercial air field where some NetJets planes land when transporting players and fans to the PGA golf tournament, is interesting. First, the Teamsters chose to picket The Memorial because several NetJets customers will be flying NetJets private aircraft to the tournament. Many of these customers make the same or more than $17.5 million per year and run their own companies. For them, they understand labor costs, union propaganda, and will likely not stop using NetJets because of this flyer. In fact, many can’t because they’re locked into multi-year fractional ownership agreements.

So in the end, what did Teamsters Local 284 get for spending members’ dues money printing flyers and probably paying protesters (who may not have even been Teamsters members)? Not $15/hour for workers. Not more dues-paying members. Maybe a participation trophy for showing up?

According to NetJets, “The Teamsters today issued more misleading claims about NetJets maintenance operations. These claims are intended to advance the union’s agenda in negotiations over a new contract for approximately 215 represented maintenance professionals employed by NetJets. Their approach does nothing to help the parties reach an agreement.”

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at

Laws About Buttons at Work Continue to Confound Employers

In-N-Out Burger has a uniform policy that forbids employees from wearing buttons, pins, or stickers on their uniforms because the burger chain wants to create the public image of a “sparkling clean” restaurant. This policy was challenged by workers who were refused to remove a “Fight for Fifteen” button. Let’s get to the law.

First, it doesn’t matter if an employer has a union. Nearly all private employers are subject to the National Labor Relations Act. Second, employees are generally allowed to wear whatever button they want at work unless “special circumstances” exist. To meet the special circumstances exception, employers must prove the prohibition of buttons (or the prohibition of certain types of buttons) are narrowly tailored to address only those special circumstances.

From the beginning, the law was not on the side of In-N-Out. There is a 1982 NLRB decision against Burger King for the same situation. Worth noting, that decision was overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the court finding special circumstances existed to prohibit union buttons), but the current pro-union NLRB has steadfastly ignored federal court decisions that do not align with the outcome the Board desires.

Cases that found special circumstances existed were also reviewed. In 2004, the NLRB permitted a supermarket to restrict a butcher from wearing a t-shirt with the words “Don’t Cheat About the Meat.” In 2007, the NLRB permitted a construction company to bar a worker from wearing a hardhat depicting a person urinating on a rat balloon.

The NLRB ultimately decided In-N-Out’s prohibition was closer in facts to the Burger King prohibition than the grocery store or construction store prohibitions. In-N-Out did not sufficiently explain how its practice of prohibiting the buttons was necessary to uphold its business model, and the NLRB was not convinced the buttons would adversely affect the business in any way.

Chairman Miscimarra – Please add special circumstances for dress code policies to your long list of interpretations that should be overruled once your have a fully seated Board.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at

Teamsters Focuses on Organizing the Logistics Industry

This post hits close to home – like really close – since Columbus, Ohio is flush with logistics industry companies, warehouses, airports, and thousands of freight trucks. That’s what you get with “greater access to the US market within a 10-hour drive than any other major metro.” And the floundering Teamsters Union wants a piece of the action.

The Teamsters once has 2.1 million members at its peak in 1976. Then motor carrier deregulation took effect in 1980 and its membership shrunk to 1.4 million (today). Interestingly, deregulation accounted for the elimination of about 400,000 members, which means other than those, Teamster membership has stayed rather consistent for the past 40 years.

The Teamsters want to rebuild, though, and have expanded its organizing efforts to reach workers at logistics companies outside the union’s traditional niches of trucking, parcel, and airline. Its strategy will be focused primarily on transportation and the global supply chain. In other words, per one Teamster rep, the Teamster organization plans to hit companies from the supply chain’s first mile to the last.

One major challenge the Teamsters have is capturing a worker universe that is geographically dispersed and market fragmented. Thus, the union is focused on supporting workers who claim they’ve been misclassified as contractors even though they operate in a de facto manner as employees.

This movement will be interesting to watch. It comes at a time when nationalist movements in the U.S. and Europe may reshape international trade patterns and disrupt supply chains around the world. Further, the push for automation both on the road, in terms of autonomous vehicles, and in the warehouse and distribution centers put workers’ jobs in jeopardy. Could the Teamsters be chasing a dying industry? Are they about to spend millions of their members’ dollars on an industry that is unable to be organized, a la the SEIU’s botched Fight for $15 campaign? Thankfully, I’m based in the heart of the logistics industry and will have a front-row seat for the show!

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at