More low-wage worker strikes are set for August 29

August 27, 2013 - by: Tammy Binford 2 COMMENTS

Fast-food and other low-wage workers who have staged strikes in a handful of cities around the country in recent months are planning to take their efforts nationwide on August 29.

Strikers and their supporters are calling for $15 an hour as well as more protections for workers interested in unionizing. The latest wave of strikes occurred during the week of July 29 in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Flint, Michigan.

The strikes coincide with an effort, championed by President Barack Obama, to raise the minimum wage. In February, Obama asked Congress to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour in stages by the end of 2015 and to index it to inflation thereafter.

Although not currently unionized, the strikers are getting support from unions as well as religious and community groups. Unions traditionally haven’t targeted fast-food and other low-wage workers because turnover is high and wages are low. Also, fast-food outlets once were often staffed with teens, but since the recession, more bread-winner adults have entered the industry. If they’re successful in winning higher pay, they could become more attractive to unions, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has been lending organizational and financial support to the strikers.

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry has frequently spoken out on behalf of the strikers, and in an August 8 blog post on the SEIU website, she wrote of her union’s support of the strikes and said, “We know we have to reach out to the growing service sector of low-wage jobs in retail and fast food.”

NLRA concerns

The strikes serve as a reminder to employers that they must be careful not to interfere with employee rights ensured by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protects both union and nonunion employees engaged in “protected concerted activity.” Employees have rights under the law to act in concert with or on behalf of fellow employees to improve their wages, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.

John P. Hasman, a partner with the Armstrong Teasdale law firm’s St. Louis office, says employers must be cautious in disciplining workers striking over their pay, benefits, or working conditions since such discipline could violate the NLRA.

Not all kinds of striker activity are protected, though. For example, workers may be unprotected if their actions are calculated to cause harm to the employer, “such as a cook walking away from an open flame,” Hasman says. Also picket line violence would be unprotected.

About Tammy Binford:
Tammy Binford writes and edits news alerts and newsletter articles on labor and employment law topics for BLR web and print publications. In addition, she writes for HR Hero Line and Diversity Insight, two of the ezines and blogs found on HRHero.com.
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2 COMMENTS

1 James Addison
18:39:51, 28/08/13

I worked for 34 years at the GM plant at Leeds in Kansas City, Missouri. Assembly line work is dull and mind numbing. But I did it because I was supporting a family of four. I never owned a new car, I bought my home in 1963, a time when they wouldn’t even consider my wife’s income, but due to my service in the air force during the Korean war I was able to afford it. I can always remember how many small minded people thought that people who worked for GM. Ford or Chrysler were supposed to be making 70,000.00 dollars a year, The earnings reported in the news paper took into account the cost of my excellent benefits I received thanks to the work of my Union. I am deceased now, I died as a result of ALS. But these words that my son is putting in your comment section will always ring true. The UAW gave us a safe working environment, benefits that all Americans should enjoy and a decent living wage. No one got rich working on the line but we at least had a recourse to prevent us from being fired simply because a foreman didn’t like the way you looked at him. Remember those who paved the way for better wages for all Americans. If FDR had lived he was preparing a second bill of rights that would have guaranteed every American health care and other essentials. My father was a great man and I am a proud progressive veteran because of him.

2 rick
08:44:32, 29/08/13

I believe anytime workers walk off the job, the intent is to harm the employer. It’s a form of blackmail, “do what I say, or else….” And what response does an employer have when his/her business is shut down for weeks? You lose more money, which is what the employees want in the first place. I’m all for protecting workers from unfair treatment, but it’s gotten to the point that once you hire someone, you owe them employment and benefits for the rest of their lives. It needs to be fair both ways.

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