The Never Ending Madness

Way back in the before times, I was involved in a unionization effort at the company I was with at the time. The Teamsters were trying to organize some part-time drivers and other similar sorts of labor. Most were guys working in these jobs were just doing it to pick up some extra money. It was a piece work deal. A man showed up and he was put to work on whatever was needed at the time. A small percentage tried to make a full-time job of it, but the hours were limited to 25 a week in order to discourage it.

Of course, a group of guys trying to make a career of washing cars or shuttling them to and from a location would always try hard to get more hours. When the company held the line, they contacted the union and the result was a union campaign. The Teamsters won by one vote, mostly by threatening the guys who were not interested. The result was they got a bunch of rules and new pay rates. The truly part-time wanted nothing to do with it and the original organizers were washed out one by one. It was a disaster.

It’s not hard to see something similar happening to fast food workers if they try to form a union. The companies will simply start automating the work and the result will be fewer people making slightly less, while the SEIU gets a piece of the action. Unions are not bad per se, but service worker unions prove little in the way of services to their members, while siphoning off a piece of their check. The SEIU is pretty much just a money racket for the Democratic Party, not a genuine labor movement.

The mathematics of fast food means it can never work. McDonald’s has about 25% of their costs in retail labor. That $7 meal you get in the drive through is a $1.75 in human costs. Doubling the wages does more than double the labor cost. It jacks up taxes and benefit costs. These franchises will have legal and personal costs associated with dealing with a union workforce. Since no one is buying a $10 union meal from McDonalds when they can get a $7 meal from some other option, the result will be ruinous.

Of course, what never gets mentioned is the fact that these jobs were never intended to be careers. They were originally for kids and adults looking for part-time work. The manager would make a career of it, but the front-line people were always intended to be temporary workers in a homogeneous society. That is, your kid got a job at McDonalds, working for someone who lived in the community. The franchise was locally owned, so it was like going to work for a neighbor. That was the point of franchising.

That meant a different relationship between the owners, customer and workers than we see today. Go into a McDonalds now and the staff are weird little brown people from another land. They barely speak English. The manager is just a employee from somewhere, working for a company that has twenty franchises. As the customer, you have no emotional attachment to the place, as it is run by strangers and owned by some out of town interest. The workers peasants with no better options.

It is something to watch in the coming years. Chick-fil-A relies on the old model of hiring locals needing part-time work. They pay better, but expect more. The experience is vastly better for the customer, as the people are pleasant, speak English and seem to care about doing a good job. No one talks about unions and the customers have no reason to think the workers need representation. McDonalds relies on indentured servants and illegals and their reputation has declined as a result. Which model will prevail?