Ordinarily Americans view a strike as workers demanding higher pay or better benefits. This Thursday, Americans will see a different kind of strike at fast food restaurants around the country, planned not by restaurant employees, but by paid political activists organized by the Service Employees International Union.
These activists want fast food workers to be paid $15 an hour, instead of a federal or state minimum wage that ranges from $7.25 to $9.19 an hour. No matter that fewer than 3 percent of American workers earn the minimum wage, and that minimum wage workers are disproportionately young and unskilled, who would not be hired at $15 an hour.
In an interview earlier this month with Salon.com, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry said that SEIU members "see the fast food workers as standing up for all of us. Because the conditions are exactly the same."
The SEIU, along with other unions, is desperate. Union membership has been declining steadily over the past 30 years, and unions are looking for a new game plan to stop it. Hence Thursday's strikes.
Consider that even though the economy grew in 2012, the total unionization rate declined to 11.3 percent of wage and salary workers in 2012 from 11.8 percent the year before, according to the Labor Department. The private sector unionization rate fell to 6.6 percent from 6.9 percent, and the government unionization rate dropped from 37 percent to 35.9 percent.
These data show that union membership declined faster during Obama's first term (1.1 percentage points over four years) than in two terms under President George W. Bush (1.1 percentage points over eight years). Public sector unionization rates fell by nine tenths of a percentage point during Obama's first term, compared with seven tenths of a percentage point during Bush's two terms.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a speech in March, "We are not going to rebuild the labor movement solely through NLRB elections and voluntary recognition by employers, no matter how smart and strategic our campaigns."
The problem for Trumka is that when workers are given the choice of voting to join a union in a supervised National Labor Relations Board election, unions are losing. Employees see that the hefty union dues that come out of their paychecks are not worth the benefits. Plus, many union pension plans are underfunded, so that worker contributions pay for benefits for retirees, with no hope of similar benefits when the current workers retire.
Since elections, the gold standard in employees' choice, are not serving the union cause, unions are turning to worker centers with names such as Fast Food Forward and Low Pay Is Not OK to organize workers.
The people you see demonstrating in front of your favorite McDonald's on Thursday may well be members of these worker centers, which have targeted 20 cities for demonstrations on August 29, including New York, Chicago, Memphis, Tampa, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, and Austin.
Some fast food workers on radio and TV are trained by union PR firms. I had the honor of appearing on National Public Radio with Terrance Wise, a 34-year old fast food worker, who was represented by publicist Berlin Rosen. The firm has an impressive list of union clients, including the SEIU.
According to Berlin Rosen's Web site, "We work with our union clients to develop hard-hitting campaigns that bring together eye-catching member-to-member mail, persuasive tv ads, phone programs, web campaigns and earned media to help deliver your message and win the day."
Fast Food Forward states on its Facebook page, "Fast food workers nation-wide are going on strike for a better future for their families, their communities and to get our economy moving with again. Stand with them on August 29th."
Fast Food Forward and Low Pay Is Not OK are allied with other worker centers, including Stand Up KC, Raise Up Milwaukee, Fight for 15, Central American Resource Center, MassUniting, Rally for 15, Atlanta Jobs with Justice, Flint-15.
At Low Pay Is Not OK's Web site, people can download a strike kit (Download 15 Steps for $15/hour) and a strike letter ("This is to notify you that today [Today's Date] we're going on strike for one day to demand a $15 an hour wage, for the right to join a union without intimidation, and to protest interference with our protected workplace rights.")
Workers seeking a pay increase would be expected to ask for a 10 percent or 15 percent increase in the hope that the employer would pay that amount rather than find new workers. Fast Food Forward activists do not have to worry about losing their own jobs, so they seek extraordinary wage increases of up to 100 percent.
Fast Food Forward is funded by New York Communities for Change, which was set up in 2010 to replace the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN. ACORN closed down due to financial shenanigans and scandal, but NYCC has the same address and leadership. Jonathan Westin, a former ACORN organizer, directs NYCC and Fast Food Forward.
The SEIU has contributed over $100,000 to NYCC, according to documents filed with the Labor Department. These documents also show that NYCC received $353,881 from the United Federation of Teachers between August 1, 2011 and July 31, 2012.
Unions are paying worker centers to do what unions are not permitted to do. On August 29, worker centers will use demonstrations, lobbying, and community organizing to bully and shame employees into submission, tactics that unions are not permitted to use.
Unions represent workers because officials are elected in supervised elections. Worker centers are not official representatives of workers, including fast food workers, because they have not been elected.
The tactics of Fast Food Forward and Low Pay Is Not OK might result in the loss of fast food workers' jobs, but no fast food worker has elected the worker centers or authorized Thursday's demonstrations.
Worker centers do not have to file financial disclosure firms to reveal the sources of their funds, as unions are required to do. Unions file LM-2 forms with the Labor Department so that members can see how they are spending union dues.
As Labor Day approaches, unions are undoubtedly desperate due to declining membership. But raising fast food workers' wages to $15 an hour would result in fewer workers being hired, with losers being those who are least able to find other employment.
Originally published on RealClearMarket.com.