Topics: Labor Unions

Fast-food strikers reading from their talking points too well

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Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Analysis,Media

There are apparently two things that the fast food restaurant workers going on strike across the nation want: A $15-an-hour wage and shoes. Lots and lots of shoes.

In a startling number of interviews over the past few months, different strikers at different events all made a point of saying they needed the higher wage to buy shoes.

Now, obviously, shoes are something everyone needs, so it isn't all that unusual that somebody would mention them in this context. But the sheer ubiquity of the comments -- often using very similar language -- is eyebrow-raising.

The small but telling detail underscores something that isn't getting reported about the fast food strikes: They are not a spontaneous grassroots movement. They are being run behind the scenes by Big Labor. Unions are even telling the strikers what to say.

For example, Milwaukee Burger King employee Tessie Harrell told USA Today back in May: "I can't afford to buy my kids shoes."

In July, Brooklyn McDonald's employee Kareem Starks told MSNBC: "I can't afford my shoes or afford my rent." Detroit striker Aunyetta Crosby told the Michigan Chronicle: "McDonald's makes billions off of our work, but I can't even buy my daughter new shoes."

The following month McDonald's worker Victoria Price told NBC's Dallas affiliate: "[At] $7.25 an hour, I can barely afford a light bill, or rent, or shoes for my kids."

The AP reported that Kansas City pizza-maker Terrance Wise said "his paychecks aren't enough to buy shoes for his three daughters."

Also in August, Arby's worker Beijing Hill told Truthout: "What am I gonna tell [my son] when he walks up to me and says, ‘Daddy, can I have some new shoes?'"

McDonald's employee Daisha Mims told the Knoxville News Sentinel: “This year I could only buy two of my three kids shoes for school."

Kansas Burger King employee Terrell Bullock told KCTV a $15 wage would mean "I'll be able to pay my bills ... and not have to divide -- 'do I get the kids shoes or what are we going to eat?' "

In September, Darlene Battle told the Philadelphia Inquirer that a raise would mean workers wouldn't have to "beg for shoes for our children."

On Oct. 18, Little Caesar's employee Julio Wilson told North Carolina's Daily Tar Heel that his daughter "just started school and needs shoes."

There are other examples, but you get the point. The strikers are all probably reading from the same talking points, argued the Employment Policies Institute, which first noticed the pattern.

Cynical? Maybe, but the protests are undeniably being stage-managed. The main organizer is the nonprofit group Fast Food Forward.

In a July press release it said: "Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is providing financial and technical support to the campaigns and is lending staff to help train organizers on the ground in each of the cities."

Like the similar events at Walmart, it is not clear how many protesters actually work at the stores and how many are activists bused in for the event. The organizers make sure to direct those that really are flipping burgers to reporters.

Washington Examiner contributor Diana Furchtgott-Roth wrote in August about appearing on an NPR show with Terrance Wise, a Kansas City worker.

She later learned from NPR that Wise had a publicist. "A minimum-wage worker with a publicist? That's something," she wrote.

Wise's publicist worked for BerlinRosen, whose clients include SEIU. The PR firm has aggressively pushed the strikes as a news story to reporters like me.

SEIU has as much right as anyone to agitate for a higher minimum wage. If this were a business group, though, this would almost certainly be called an "AstroTurf campaign." That is, fake grassroots.

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