Despite more 'salting,' labor unions are getting pushback in their drive to organize restaurants

Working Lunch: Some unionized workers aren't happy about a portion of their paycheck going to labor groups, and they're deciding to do something about it.

While unions "salt" more restaurants with organizers posing as employees, a countermovement is building among the already-unionized to end their representation by groups like Workers United, as this week’s episode of the Working Lunch podcast attests.

The broadcast features a guest appearance by Mark Mix, president of the Right to Work Committee. The group helps organized employees across all industries to vote on whether to remain in their unions, a process known as decertification.

He spoke a day after Workers United, the parent of the union that’s organized 375 Starbucks units, decided to end its representation of an Ultimo Coffee café. All but one employee of the store had signed a petition asking federal regulators to permit a vote on whether to oust the labor group.

Facing that opposition, Workers United opted to voluntarily end the affiliation, or what the labor community knows as a walk-out.

The union had similarly walked out of a sister Ultimo store about 10 days earlier.

In addition, Mix revealed that his organization had just worked with employees of a Starbucks store to file another decertification petition with the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that monitors union elections. The request for a second election at the store would be the 20th decertification petition Starbucks employees have filed with the Board.

To date, not one go-ahead has been granted by the regulators because Starbucks has been accused by Starbucks Workers United of engaging in unfair labor practices.

Still, said Mix, dissatisfaction with union representation is building.   

“It’s been exciting—we have employees coming to us every day,” Mix told Working Lunch co-hosts Joe Kefauver and Franklin Coley, partners in the Orlando, Fla., lobbying firm Align Public Strategies. “In the last 12 months, we’ve been involved in about 110 decertification efforts.”

The Right to Work group has about 20 lawyers on staff who do nothing but help employees and employers navigate what they can and can’t do when contending with a union.

Mix was speaking of the trend across all industries. But conditions within the restaurant business are likely to make it a hotbed of decertification, he noted.

With the industry’s high turnover, many of the employees who voted to unionize have moved to other jobs. And the “salts,” the union-backed plants who took jobs specifically to talk up the positives of unionizing, have similarly been dispatched elsewhere.

“The facilitator of all this is gone,” explained Mix.

Given those dynamics, workers not sympathetic to unions are questioning why they have to fork over an initiation fee and a portion of their paycheck as dues when they had nothing to do with bringing in groups like Workers United.

Despite Right to Work’s recent victories,  Kefauver warned that Workers United and its parent organization, the mighty Service Employees International Union, aren’t backing off in their efforts to organize the chain restaurant industry. They’re just being less overt in those efforts, he asserted.

“It’s shocking how many brands in the last six, eight months have had salting activity,” Kefauver said.

For a deeper dive into how the union landscape is changing within the restaurant industry, press Play.

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