May 2014 – ECONOMY – Even though fast food workers have staged several one-day strikes in the last 18 months, the protests have not swayed McDonald’s or other major restaurant chains to significantly raise their employees’ pay. So on Thursday, the fast food workers’ movement wants to broaden its reach as it pushes for a $15-an-hour wage that restaurant companies say is unrealistic. In addition to one-day strikes in 150 cities across the country, the movement’s leaders hope to take their cause global. They say support protests will take place in 80 cities in more than 30 countries, from Dublin to Venice to Casablanca to Seoul to Panama City. Over the last decade as American labor unions have declined in membership and power, they have increasingly turned to unions in Europe and Asia to help pressure companies overseas to stop battling organizing drives at their United States units. And now the fast food movement, underwritten by the Service Employees International Union, is embracing a similar strategy as it struggles to gain influence with the fast food giants.
“It’s a global economy, so they’re saying, ‘Why not go overseas to make it into a global fight?’ ” said Lowell Turner, a professor of international labor relations at Cornell University. “They’re trying to create a global protest movement.” The movement’s organizers say there will be protests in 30 cities in Japan, 20 in Britain, five in Brazil and three in India. The effort’s strategists point to some fast-growing overseas markets as vulnerable targets for corporations like McDonald’s that have begun relying more heavily on foreign revenue now that domestic fast food sales have languished. To help propel the effort, a labor federation with 12 million workers in 126 countries — the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations — met in New York last week. It brought together union officials from more than two dozen countries, many of them with thriving, powerful labor organizations, to throw their weight behind Thursday’s protests. Massimo Frattini, international coordinator of the federation’s restaurant division, said restaurant workers in Europe, Asia and Latin America were eager to join in — both to help their own cause and that of their United States allies. “Fast food workers in many other parts of the world face the same corporate policies — low pay, no guaranteed hours and no benefits,” said Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union. Her union has previously teamed up with overseas unions. For instance, it worked with Swedish unions to persuade Securitas, a Swedish security services company, not to oppose many efforts to unionize security guards at its American subsidiaries.
But such overseas cooperation does not always guarantee success. The United Automobile Workers have asked unions in Japan and other nations to pressure Nissan to adopt a less hostile stance toward its unionization campaign at Nissan’s plant in Mississippi. So far, those efforts have not changed Nissan’s position. Scott DeFife, an executive vice president for the National Restaurant Association, a trade group, dismissed Thursday’s protests — however broadened — as more of the same. “These are made-for-TV media moments — that’s pretty much it,” he said. Eddie Foreman, 40, a McDonald’s worker in Opelika, Ala., who makes $7.75 an hour and takes home about $200 a week, said he had persuaded several other workers in his town to walk out Thursday. “The reason I’m going on strike is I don’t make enough money to take care of my kids,” he said. “We need to go on strike and protest — that’s the only way we’ll get them to improve things.” Businesses have generally opposed the $15-an-hour proposal, saying it would cut into their profits, reduce hiring and force them to raise prices. Mr. DeFife warned of harmful repercussions if wages climbed to $15 an hour. “It would have consequences on hiring patterns for Main Street businesses across the country,” he said. –NY Times