‘Fight for $15’ Protests: Prepare for Stepped-Up Pay Demands

By Allen Smith Apr 15, 2015

The “Fight for $15” protests on April 15, 2015, which pressed companies to pay their workers a minimum of $15 per hour, were expected to include 60,000 protesters in 200 cities and 40 countries. The movement has moved beyond just fast-food workers to include retail employees, childcare workers, adjunct professors, home care providers and airport workers.

Molita Spaulding, a home care worker from Miami, said, “I’ve dedicated my career to caring for other people. I love my work, and it matters a lot to a lot of families. But my job pays me so little that it’s harder and harder to make ends meet. I stepped up to join the Fight for $15 with my co-workers to speak out for stable, quality home care [and] a wage we can live on. We help people live with dignity. We should be paid enough to pay our own bills.”

“HR should care because this is the new union movement,” Michael Lotito, an attorney with Littler in San Francisco, told SHRM Online. “It is more credible with the income inequality theme, the new election rules, e-mail use for employees for union activity, new FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] rules coming out, micro units and the most activist pro-union NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] in decades, coupled with the last two years of a very friendly administration toward labor.

“The April 15 protests will be worldwide,” he said, continuing with reasons why these particular protests are expected to be so significant: “The recent pay increase announcements [at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart], the April 15 date (for $15), the fact it is on tax day (income inequality) and McDonald’s 60th anniversary suggest this is going to be real big.”

Lotito surmised that “Few employees will participate, but the SEIU [Service Employees International Union] will bring together rent-a-protestors to make the media splashes they are known for. Further, the new NLRB election rules become effective on April 14, so I am anticipating election filings before the NLRB too. Could be a significant zoo.”

‘Nothing Is Ever Enough’

Lotito said, “Much of this is hype. But the SEIU is patient.” He added, “Nothing is ever enough for the SEIU, and they are not known for stopping unless their target punches back hard.”

While the SEIU-funded Fight for $15 movement took credit for McDonald’s recent raise at its 1,500 restaurants run by company headquarters (though not for employees at its 12,500 franchisees), for example, it simultaneously criticized the raise of just under $10 an hour as a “publicity stunt.”

And in talking about Fight for $15 on March 31, 2015, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said, “I want to share some of the words from leaders who inspired me last night. We heard from courageous workers like Dunkin’ Donuts worker Erica Concepcion, who set the room on fire when she said, ‘I’m fighting for $15 now, but after we win, I’ll be fighting for $20.’ ”

Advice for HR

Lotito remarked that “Most HR professionals have never dealt with union issues. The vast majority of companies have ill-defined supervisors who are not trained and few organizations have done vulnerability assessments. The fact that unions have done so little in 20 years has removed them as a legitimate threat for most companies. It is much more likely that an organization has a plan in place for a natural disaster or for an Internet disruption than a labor disruption.”

That said, Lotito cautioned, “At the end of the day, as long as union membership declines, unions will do anything to survive.”

HR should always be aware of “any external group that is trying to influence their workers, or create possible business disruptions via protest actions or work stoppages,” said Michael VanDervort, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management Labor Relations Special Expertise Panel. “The HR function should be preparing their managers, developing labor response plans, and providing training and information to managers on labor issues, especially those related to the NLRB.”

Don Schroeder, an attorney with Mintz Levin in Boston, said the $15 figure for the movement “seemed to come out of thin air, quite frankly.” He added, “I don’t know what the basis is for it other than doubling minimum wage.” The federal minimum wage currently is $7.25 an hour.


As for Fight for $15’s accomplishments thus far, the movement is quick to note in its press releases that Seattle and San Francisco have ordinances in place to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15.

Still, Schroeder said that if the goal of the movement is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, it has, on the whole, not been successful.

Nor has it increased unionization. Anthony Byergo, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Kansas City, Mo., said, “Despite the union organizing objectives of the movement, remarkably few representation petitions have been filed seeking union elections in the fast-food industry since Fight for $15 was founded.” However, Byergo added, “HR professionals should be cognizant of any support for and participation in Fight for $15 activities among their own employees, as it is certainly an early warning sign of future serious union organizing activity.”

Plus, the movement has had some success in increasing minimum wages at the state and local level, “if you believe they’re responsible for that,” Schroeder said.

The Fight for $15 movement notes in a press release: “Since the first fast-food strike in 2012, 9 million low-wage workers have gotten raises through local ballot measures, city and state legislation, contract negotiations, and employer policy changes—more workers than are in private-sector unions in the entire country. The urgent need for solutions to America’s low-wage crisis is already emerging as a key issue in the run-up to the 2016 election.”

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.


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