Although the recent wave of one-day strikes at fast-food chains across major cities isn’t likely to extend to full-service independent restaurants, Amanda Sonneborn says the risk is employees at those restaurants may start asking about the $15 an hour wages their quick-service colleagues are fighting for.
“Although big unions probably aren’t going to target individual stores, it could spark movements at other restaurants and smaller chains if employees start asking those questions,” says Sonneborn, a partner in the labor and employment practice of law firm Seyfarth Shaw, who frequently represents large corporations.
What began in Manhattan last November has recently ratcheted up with more one-day strikes at chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s, Long John Silver’s in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Flint, MI.
Employees are stopping work during busy mealtimes and picketing out front of their restaurants, demanding higher wages of $15 an hour, more than double the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. Sonneborn believes the strikes are a tactic by unions to encourage organization in the traditionally non-unionized industry.
Two of the reasons restaurant employees typically don’t organize are the exact reasons unions would say they should. Many workers typically make little more than minimum wage, making union dues difficult to pay, and those same employees also don’t typically stick around too long. Turnover can be as high as 80 percent at many restaurants.
With raises to the federal minimum wage still being debated in Washington, DC, unions and their advocates are pushing the issue publically through these strikes. Sonneborn says restaurant owners and managers need to understand federal and state labor laws and anticipate questions before they come.
“Make sure you are conversant and know your legal obligations,” she says. “Also think about positive employee relations and being proactive. Make sure you have answers so [employees] don’t feel the need to appeal to this kind of organization. Make sure they know you are the place to go for information.”