From the June 1999 Industrial Worker
McUnion--A Saga of Intrigue & Suspense in Technicolor
The fast food industry is a big employer in the US, and it's workers are virtually unorganized. The pay is low, the schedules erratic and the work tedious. For the most part, fast food workers have seldome joined together in union due to things such as high turnover and resignation to the job environment. Factors such as these have made outside organizing very dificult, and big unions in this country made little effort to help workers build unions.
Myself and several other Wobblies who work at McDonald's in Olympia, WA, are trying to change our situation. I started there three months ago (in February), and after two weeks of hard, degrading, understaffed and underpaid work; I started talking to the other employees about organizing. At the same time, to my good fortune, several other Wobs were looking for employment so they donned the Golden Arches uniform and joined in the fun! after one meeting of the workers who showed inerest, we discussed issues in the workplace we felt needed to be addressed, and formulated a petition.
After that meeting, rumors circulated widely, and a few days later the boss had been informed of a few workers starting to organize. The next day when I came in for my shift, there was a benefits policy posted in the crew room. Management denied it had anything to do with our activities. Previously only two people in the store had benefits of any kind, and that was a big issue with us. It's an expensive and extremely limited plan, but it satisfied some people. At this time the phone list of our co-workers was "misplaced," and access to the office became restricted.
We continued to talk to other workers and to collect signatures. Sides were being taken. We discovered that a couple of workers who we though were on our sie were secretly reporting back to management. Management told people they could be fired for signing the petition and started cutting hours of known organizers. After a couple of weeks of this the owner of the store posted a letter in the crew room addressing the union, saying although it is legal to sign, workers should come hear "our side of the story" first. The owner expressed her "diappointment" with the employees during seeral paid employee meetings. I realized this is where McDonald's has the upper hand; we had limited opportunity to talk with other workers on company time and they had as much access to their workers as they wanted. We then decided to write a newsletter explaining what exactly our union was and why we needed one, with a copy of our rights as stated in Sec. 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, and continued to spread the word.
Our branch also sponsored an event on May Day which featured an organizer and ran-and-file worker from the Canadian Auto Workers who spoke on organizing in the fast food industry. Their union has organized several KFC's, Starbuck's cofees and a McDonald's restaurant in British Columbia.
One of the greatest difficulties is the resignation to the poor job environment that some workers had. "It's McDonald's, what do you expect?" one worker told me after mentioning the fact we're getting minimum wage to perform several different jobs at once (McDonald's company policy is to have labor costs under %15 of espenses, and as a result are chronically understaffed). Also, a high turnover makes it difficult to maintain a steday number of people in the shop who are signed.
About two weeks ago I tried to present the petition to the owner. She would no read it or accept the copy I tried to giver her, saying "I will not listen to anything having to do with the union, but if you have a personal issue with the job I'm more than willing to listen". The next day she called me, as well as several other workers, into the office individually to discuss the work environment and the new benefits package. I told her that the benefits package was a nice offer, but a greater help would be better pay. On my wage working full time, I couldn't afford coverage.
At the beginning of this month I submitted my one month notice of resignation, as I'm moving to California in June. When I came to work two days after the boss received my ltter she handed me a check for the remainder of my scheduled time and told me she didn't need me to come in because she wanted to "use my hours in the shop to train other people". Basically, I am being kept safelyout of the shop and I cannot take legal action on the grounds of lost wages or unfair termination. Also, another key organizer has been terminated for unreliability. Though it is within company policy to do so, typically mamagement would only suspend workers for unreliability. There are still workers who support our efforts, but as a result of these two terminations, we have lost alot of momentum.
We are continuing our efforts at this McDonald's and the issues in the workplace aren't going to disappear, but we could use some help. Keep an eye out for the coveted McVoluntary assessment stamps, which are in the works and any person willing to actively organize please contact Jared, Jade, or Sara at (360) 753-2397 and apply at the West Olympia "McTropolis" Today!
For a World Without Bosses!
Sara Cory and Jared Souza