Employers at fast food chains around the nation should brace themselves for a series of protests and acts of civil disobedience that will occur this Thursday, September 4. The strikes, organized by members of the “Fight for 15″ movement, are part of the nationwide crusade to raise the minimum wage. The Fight for 15 organization carried out a similar campaign to raise wages last spring. There are few details on the nature of the protests that will reportedly occur in as many as 150 cities across the country.
Such organized and concerted efforts are part of a broader trend to effectuate changes to wages and working conditions outside of the traditional labor union construct. For example, so-called “worker centers”– otherwise known as union front organizations (UFOs) – are increasing in number, and working in conjunction with unions to achieve typical labor organization goals. UFOs are generally non-profit organizations offering a variety of services to their members, including worker advocacy, lobbying, employment services, and legal advice. The Fight for 15 movement has union support, particularly from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Last year, the AFL-CIO vowed to work with such labor offshoots.
Employers must be careful not to interfere with employees’ lawful Fight for 15 activities. Under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), employees have the protected right to engage in concerted activity for the purpose of mutual aid and protection. These rights apply to both union and non-union employees. Concerted activity includes individual employees seeking to initiate group action, or a group of employees trying to bring group complaints to management, regarding employment related concerns. Any adverse employment action taken in response to an employee’s participation in Fight for 15 could be an unfair labor practice if it interferes with, coerces, or restrains the employee’s rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the NLRA. Remedies for unfair labor practices include reinstatement with full back pay and interest. Employers also are required to post a notice to all employees outlining the NLRA violation and the remedy.
Meanwhile, in a round of Labor Day speeches, President Obama and Labor Secretary Perez reiterated their support to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. At least 13 states and the District of Columbia have increased their minimum wages in recent months, and a handful of states and localities have placed the question of whether to raise the minimum wage on the November ballot. It is expected that issues such as income inequality and wage theft will be key talking points for many Democrats going into the November elections.