Fast Food Walk Outs Spark Union Discussion


DETROIT — In Detroit and Flint today, and other cities throughout the nation, fast-food workers from several different chain restaurants are walking off the job and rallying for wage hikes to $15 an hour. These are not isolated incidents, though. Labor attorney Cliff Hammond of Detroit-based employment law firm Nemeth Burwell, P.C., says the walkouts are part of a national trend as unions seek to expand membership amid a dramatic drop in traditional core union membership of manufacturing workers over the past 10+ years.

“Fast food workers are the next frontier for union organizing activities because that job sector represents a large group of potential members who, until recently, have been completely untouched by unions and their organizing efforts,” says Hammond. “What is interesting about this particular trend is that the force behind the protests is not only the unions. This is a collaborative effort among unions, public interest groups, and even religious organizations and leaders to bring attention to perceived low wages, part-time work hours and a lack of benefits. The groups view these types of actions not only as a means to organize employees into unions, but to publicize and draw greater attention to their common goals, including social causes and significant increases in minimum wages.” 

Hammond, who was employed as an attorney for the SEIU — the nation’s largest service workers’ union — prior to going to the management side of labor and employment law at Nemeth Burwell, knows first-hand about the recruiting tactics involved in obtaining new union members.

“Union organizing is a strategic sales strategy initiative. Enlisting church pastors, community organizers and other public interest groups is yet another way to draw attention to worker issues, gain sympathetic supporters and ultimately convert workers to union members. It’s a survival strategy and it’s a good one,” says Hammond.

Union organizing activity isn’t dying out, even in states like Michigan where there has been a legislated shift to “Right to Work.”

“Unions are aggressive and persistent by nature. In some respects, the new Michigan Right to Work law has stimulated union activity. The walk-outs by fast food workers in Detroit and Flint are a perfect example,” says Hammond.