10.25.2010 1

Union Campaigns Against Fast Food Industry Should Concern Young Workers and Consumers

By Kevin Mooney — Younger workers who are concentrated in fast food restaurants and coffee shops could find themselves out of work in a few months, if union organization efforts continue to catch on nationally.

Several Starbucks locations have already succumbed to the demands set by a highly aggressive, anti-capitalist outfit known as the Industrial Workers of the Word (IWW), which is now targeting fast food operations.

On its website, IWW claims 75,000 members in 125 affiliated unions have joined in with the efforts aimed against Jimmy John’s sandwich shops, which employ college-age students and recent graduates. In September, it also hosted a “National Week of Action” that targeted Jimmy John’s in 32 states.

The language included as part of the union’s constitution is highly instructive in that it reveals IWW is opposed to the profit motive and devoted to overturning the capitalist system. If it succeeds in taking down Jimmy John’s, this could set a precedent across the fast food industry that should concern both workers and consumers, Vincent Vernuccio, a labor policy counsel with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), warns.

“If labor costs go up, so will prices on the menu,” he explains in a recent article. “Many of the same students asking for higher wages probably enjoy dollar-menu items at other restaurants. If those chains are also forced to pay higher wages and benefits based not on what the market will bear but on how hard a bargain union negotiators can derive, they will not be able to offer the low food prices consumers enjoy.”

With unemployment rates for young people already reaching acute levels, the IWW campaign is gaining momentum at a particularly disconcerting moment. Employers who are already reticent to hire in a recessionary climate will turn to older, more experienced works to take the edge of higher costs.

Students who are working to organize should carefully consider the potential economic fallout from their actions.

“When the price of a product or service goes up, demand for that product or service decreases,” Vernuccio adds. “Yet, students are cheaper to hire than other workers, but that’s because they do not have the experience, skills, and knowledge of veteran workers. Indeed, by raising the cost of employing workers at Jimmy John’s, some workers may indeed organize themselves out of a job.”

Government figures show that only 1.3 percent of workers in the fast-food industry are unionized. This means IWW has ample running room and the consumers should hold onto their wallets.

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