Union front groups turned out hundreds of fast food workers from dozens of cities demanding union representation and $15 minimum wages.
Service Employees International Union, one of the largest Democratic special interest groups, and activists with Restaurant Opportunity Center, a nonprofit union front group, inspired the mass demonstrations that closed down fast food joints from New York City to San Francisco.
Restaurant advocates blasted the pseudo-populist movement, accusing the activists of representing a fraction of employees at the expense of the majority of workers.
"The unions are driving this and they’re using front groups to stage these protests to do things that would be illegal for unions themselves to do," said Mike Paranzino, spokesman for ROC Exposed.
Workers blocked cashiers, padlocked the doors, and forced fast food restaurants to close as part of Thursday’s protests, actions that are not permitted of union members by federal labor law.
Neither SEIU nor ROC responded to requests for comment.
SEIU has provided millions of dollars to groups that helped organize the rally, including Fast Food Forward and New York Communities for Change. ROC, meanwhile, was founded by service union UNITE HERE and has received money from Big Labor and taxpayers.
Paranzino said Big Labor’s support for the protest stemmed from its desperation to generate new dues-paying members.
"This is a Hail Mary pass," he said. "They’ve faced this problem in all areas [of the economy], but restaurants especially because of the young workforce, people who choose to work part-time, and the industry’s high turnover."
The worker centers like ROC help get a union foot in the door, according to Paranzino, since they do not have to clear the hurdles of attaining majority support necessary to unionize.
"This allows them to get a few disgruntled workers, and then they turn around and say that they’re representing the majority of employees," Paranzino said. "What about the workers that want to work or have to pay bills? They have no voice."
"We’re seeing protests where businesses have been shut down, and there’s been no secret election, no union certified to collectively bargain."
Many D.C. fast food workers were not even aware of the protests, judging by the lack of picket lines at Subways, Dunkin Donuts, and McDonalds near the White House.
Michael Saltsman, research director with the Employment Policies Institute, said the lack of interest in the protest demands for $15 minimum wages is to the worker’s benefit.
"You can’t have both $15 wages and the same business opportunities," he said. "Labor costs are at the local level, not the corporate level."
Protesters lambasted low wages, pointing out the multi-billion-dollar revenues of companies like McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway. Saltsman said they are looking at the wrong place. The vast majority of fast food restaurants are controlled by franchisees, who make "five to six cents on the dollar," according to Saltsman.
"Corporations aren’t in the restaurant business, they’re in the marketing business," he said. "All you’ll be doing with $15 minimum wages is hurting small businesses, franchisees."
The protesters can look no further than ROC’s restaurant Colors to see the effect of their demands for entry-level pay nearly double the minimum wage.
The activist-inspired restaurant has been reduced to offering catered services and is no longer "open for breakfast, lunch, or dinner," according to Paranzino, who said the restaurant has been cited for multiple health and safety violations.
"Colors employed all the policies that the protesters demand of restaurants, and they failed," he said. " When you embrace Big Labor’s business model, it’s destructive to business and the workers."
A restaurant need not fail for it to hurt workers, according to Saltsman.
"France has a much higher minimum wage than we do and you’ll notice that McDonalds in France don’t have cashiers—they have touchscreens," he said. "If you create this $15 wage scenario the prices go up or you make sure that the customer experience is the same, but there are less jobs or less hours for workers."