These are strategies that have proven successful in organizing workers into unions, strategies that guided our campaign at Pizza Hut.
Keep your heads down as long as you can. Management will usually move to preemptively fire workers when they see them seriously organizing a union. To begin, check out your fellow workers on a one-on-one basis to see if they want to fight for better wages and more rights. Avoid discussions with anyone who is supportive of the company, since they could well spill the beans to management. You want to build up a core of union supporters undercover without management knowing. The stronger the base of supporters you have when management finds out, the harder it is to single anyone out or defeat your campaign.
Gather all the facts you can about the company: its profits, who owns it, the salaries and benefits earned by its CEO and management, etc. You will need this to show fellow workers how management isn’t a “team player” but, instead, is getting fat off your work.
Gather lists of workers who are interested in fighting the company. Get their names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mails. Use the e-mail to send them information. It’s better than printing up pieces of paper since, inevitably, one of them gets into the hands of management – which can then lead to greater vigilance, harassment, and firings. If you do print up flyers, don’t give then out at work if you can avoid it, and don’t put identifying information on it, if possible.
Make sure you build support among all categories of workers – of each job description, race, or gender. Management will attempt to divide you and set one group of workers against the other, so you need to develop demands that benefit all workers at your store.
Keep a lookout for supporters in other franchise stores. These might be people who moved from a generally union-sympathetic store to a new store, friends of friends, etc. As soon as possible, you want to build up at least one strong union supporter in each store, so they can continue building support in their stores. This might take time, but it is essential to try to do this from the beginning.
Create an Organizing Committee of the best activists that can meet weekly or every other week to coordinate the work, help each other with issues that come up, and build solidarity. At these meetings, discuss important strategic and tactical issues that will affect your ability to organize a successful struggle. Read and discuss books on union struggles that have been successful. Usually, these struggles have been won due to the leadership being militant. Very often, these leaders will be socialists, since socialists have no illusions in the courts, police, corporate media, or the bosses to side with workers in a struggle. Instead, they look to place emphasis on building an educated and mobilized membership – linked to a mobilization of the strongest community and union support – in order to win struggles. Such tactics are key when looking to break through into a traditionally nonunion industry like fast food. These strategies are key to our success. See the list of books in the back for details.
From the start, you need to build an educated, active rank-and-file base for your campaign. Put out educational material which anticipates the lies management will use to confuse workers. Give a clear pro-union answer to these lies. Educate all new supporters. In this pamphlet, we have provided answers to many of these lies. This is essential for the time when management starts its own propaganda campaign. Work out a system to rate workers in the stores based on how supportive they are of the unions to ensure you organize relevant discussions – often one-on-one discussions – and readings with as many workers as possible, to clarify the motives behind management’s actions and to find a way of involving the workers in building the union.
Draw up a program of demands that addresses the key needs of workers. Don’t compromise on these demands. Put down what you need, with demands for all groups of workers. The best way to develop these demands is to develop a survey for workers to fill out. This is also a great way for other workers to see how democratic our movement is and how they will be consulted on all issues that affect the coming struggle.
Do research and informally ask members of other unions to try to find a union local which is most committed to struggle, has strong democratic traditions, and has shown a good fighting tradition. Many unions do not have experience in organizing low-paid workers in the service industry and will not know how to put up a serious fight for workers in a mainly nonunion industry like fast food. One of the best local unions is the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU). It is important that you don’t make formal links with a union before you are clear on the type of union you want and the strategies and tactics you want to adopt, and before you have a strong organizing committee.
The more organized, militant, and determined you are, the more you can shape the type of campaign that the union will adopt. Remember, it will be your militancy that will determine the success of your struggle. It is your organizing committee that should make the decisions on how the struggle proceeds. Many unions have little recent experience in leading militant struggles and would prefer to just make a deal with the employer that established a union, without really addressing the issues that can change the lives of the workers. Spell out the strategies you want to use when looking for a union. That way, you will be able to find the most militant union in your area to represent you.
Make links with other unions, community organizations, and activist organizations like Jobs with Justice. Explain your issues and prepare them for the fact that you might be going out in struggle and might well be looking for support. Actively support other struggles of workers in your area to build solidarity for when you may need to go into struggle.
Only when you have close to 70% of workers supporting the union, have developed strong activists in all the stores, and have clarified your demands, strategy, and tactics and are ready to fight should you approach management. That’s the idea. Usually, management finds out before that point, in which case you will need to fight their lies earlier than you wish to.
You do not want to allow your struggle to be channeled through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This is a government agency that pretends to be neutral to unions, but in reality it is stacked with pro-corporate government appointees. The NLRB allows management to challenge the names of your union supporters and who you want to include in your union, and it can seriously sidetrack your campaign by allowing the company to mount numerous legal challenges. Your campaign then loses momentum, which allows management to intimidate and confuse workers.
Instead of going through the NLRB, you want to demand that the company accept your union immediately and start negotiating. If they challenge how much support you have, you can call for an independent person, like an independent-thinking clergy member or professor, to count union cards to see if you have as much support as you say you do.
Now is when you start to demonstrate your support in action. For example, you can have union button day, where all union supporters wear a union button to work. They can’t fire 70% of the workforce, and it helps the other 30% see how strong the union is. You can have a rally outside work. This is the way to demonstrate your strength, not by bowing down to legal challenges through the NLRB. This will build confidence and solidarity among workers, and it will show management how determined you are to win a decent contract. It is also an excellent way to get publicity through the media and to link up with other unions and workers.
In the end, your power will be determined by your ability to demonstrate to management your willingness to walk off the job in strike action. Stopping the flow of profit is the language management understands. That is your power. That’s why the more militant and organized the workers are, the more you will win. Mobilize your supporters in the labor movement and in the community to show management that others will support your struggle. You need to show them that you are willing to walk the street, for however long is necessary, to force the bosses to accept that they need to negotiate with you and accept your key demands. That’s why the more militant you are, the more you will win.
These are some demands you should strive to get in any contract negotiated with management:
- A living wage: Studies have shown a living wage to be between $12.50 and $15 an hour.
- Quality health care benefits paid for by employer.
- Full package of benefits, including vacation days and sick days.
- Guaranteed shifts for all workers of 8 hours and 40 hours a week, or such amount as applicable to the worker.
- Overtime paid after eight hours in one day.
- Agreed amount of paid maternity leave, and right to return to the job, at comparable pay and benefits up to two years after baby is born.
- Workers who choose to take part-time shifts should get a guaranteed number of hours each week and pick shifts based on seniority.
- Workers pick shifts based on seniority Ð no interference from management.
- Clear rules, enforced by the union, on any discrimination or harassment based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.
- A shop steward system, with one shop steward elected in each store, and for each shift. Shop stewards to be elected by workers in an annual election.
- Contract to clearly lay out a system of progressive discipline, so that management cannot arbitrarily fire workers for no reason.
- Workers whom management tries to discipline should have the right to file a grievance (complaint) and should remain on the job until completion of grievance process.
- Right of union to strike over management’s refusal to accept the contract’s language on grievances.
- A short contract date, preferably one year, but never over three years.
Fast food is the battleground of the 21st century. These fast-food mega-corporations have grown fat on our labor for too long. The campaign at Pizza Hut has shown that fast-food workers at Pizza Hut in Tacoma/Seattle can see through the lies, and by organizing they have forced concessions from the company. The struggle to establish a union is still ongoing. We have met workers in other fast-food companies who are also looking to get organized. Let’s get to work.