PI Original Adam Doster Wednesday December 10th, 2008, 9:06am

No Surprise Here: McDonald's To Fight EFCA

The eventual battle over the
Employee Free Choice Act is going to be a doozy. In late November, the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce described the inevitable Congressional
negotiations as a "firestorm bordering on Armageddon" and promised to spend at least $10 million in ...

The eventual battle over the Employee Free Choice Act is going to be a doozy. In late November, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce described the inevitable Congressional negotiations as a “firestorm bordering on Armageddon” and promised to spend at least $10 million in the coming months fighting the bill. Illinois-based McDonald’s Corporation is getting involved too. Crain’s David Sterrett, who obtained an internal memo from McDonald’s USA President Don Thompson to its restaurant owners on Monday, has the details:

In a Nov. 25 memo, McDonald’s USA President Don Thompson urged 2,400 franchisees to “contact your U.S. senators and representatives to oppose” the Employee Free Choice Act. [...]

Mr. Thompson warns franchisees of the “gravity of the issue,” saying the legislation, “if enacted, will impact the McDonald’s system.” Binding arbitration, he adds, would result in worker contracts “being written by government-appointed arbitrators who are not familiar with our business and don’t have long-term accountability for the decisions they make.”

While Thompson says binding arbitration is his biggest concern -- a belief he and the Heritage Foundation seem to share -- that’s almost certainly an exaggeration. At stake is a bill that would make it easier for the company’s 600,000 U.S. restaurant workers (many of whom earn less than $10 an hour) to organize a union and demand a living wage. And this is a much-needed reform.

Union elections are one-sided affairs dominated by the employer. For one, they can force workers to listen to anti-union propaganda. According to Crains’s, McDonald’s has already formed an “internal response team” to help franchisees “actively participate in the opposition to EFCA.” This mirrors the intimidation tactics the company employed in the early 1980s, which SEIU Local 880 founder Keith Kelleher wrote about for Progress Illinois last month:

A few weeks after we began, a team of psychologists rolled in. They quickly went to work, systematically interrogating each employee in a not-so-subtle attempt to intimidate them out of joining the union.

In the weeks that followed, McDonald’s brought in a high-powered corporate law firm that filed motion after motion to delay the union election that would give these McDonald’s workers an opportunity to unite. As the lawyers buried us in depositions, motions, and labor board charges, they were purposely slowing down the election process and buying McDonald’s more time to run an anti-union campaign built on spreading fear and misinformation among its workers. 

One by one, the strongest pro-union voices in the three franchises were either demoted, forced out, or fired. 

The coup de grace was a mandatory “party” hosted by McDonald’s a few nights before the scheduled election. It featured an array of celebrities—everyone from Detroit’s number-one deejay to football star Earl Campbell—who each explained the evils of uniting in a union. Even a costumed Ronald McDonald was on hand to bust the organizing effort, running a raffle with cash prizes for everyone. 

Because the costs of violating the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) are so low, companies can intimidate or fire union organizers and even sympathetic employees without serious repercussions. According to a 2005 study (PDF) by American Rights at Work, more than 23,000 workers are fired or penalized for union activity each year. As John Blevins wrote in the Houston Chronicle last month, “EFCA will not lead to coercion -- it will end it.”

McDonald's even allows unions in its Chinese stores. It’s time they stopped fighting them here.

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