- by John Minto
Widespread community support is being expressed in the campaign for low paid workers. The low pay campaign is called SupersizeMyPay.Com and has been spearheaded by the Unite Union which represents many low paid workers. Unite is currently in negotiations with the fast food outlets McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Wendy’s to get a fair deal for these workers.
The campaign has received widespread community endorsement including:
Ross Wilson, National President of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU), has also endorsed the campaign and pledged the support of the union movement to achieve the campaign aims. He said that the CTU wanted the minimum wage to increase from its current level of 45% of the average wage to 67% of the average wage. He said it was national disgrace that low paid workers had fallen so far behind.
At a January 2006 media conference to endorse the campaign, Percy Alison, on the eve of his 79 th birthday, said that the campaign being fought over youth rates had been fought and won 60 years ago but was having to be fought and won again. He had been a youngster through the years of the great Depression of the 1930’s and many of the conditions workers face now were also faced then. Rev Strickson-Pua read a vibrant, moving poem which gives an insight into the day to day struggles of Pacific Island families in low income communities. Other groups represented at the media conference included Youth Law, Make Poverty History and migrant communities.
All the speakers endorsed the key points of the campaign which are:
This support has been welcomed by Unite Union director Matt McCarten. “This is a very important development because it is clear that widespread public support will be needed to make the big differences that low paid workers are demanding. Our members are committed to this campaign and with the public coming behind us we will be unstoppable”. More Information is available from SupersizeMyPay.Com.
Union Fightback Against Mcdonald’s Union-Busting Strategy
A day of strike action and public protest on March 3 rd, 2006, was the response of young fast food workers to McDonald’s union-busting threats made earlier that week. McStrike was the theme on a day as McDonald’s workers from across Auckland joined the Queen Street picket including workers from stores at Royal Oak, Manukau, Glenfield and Wairau Rd. They were joined by 35 fast food call centre workers and Starbucks workers, to say they were proud to be in their union.
The action was in response to McDonalds’ intention to pay wage increases to non-union members from March 6 th but to refuse to pay increases for the members of Unite Union. “We are angry at the company’s attempts at undermining our union and campaign for a $12 starting rate, the end to youth rates and for job security,” said Heni Moeke, 18, a crew trainer from Point Chevalier McDonald’s. “For every staunch McDonald’s worker who is brave enough to stand up for our demands, how many intimidated worker’s are there who are afraid to join us because they have been threatened with being fired or sued and offered money for not being in the union?”
A letter confirming the company’s position states: “As advised at the last meeting, it is likely McDonald’s will decide not to pay the above increases to Unite members. That is simply because franchisees and McDonald’s are concerned that Unite’s industrial tactics have the objective and/or effect of damaging the McDonald’s brand and their business and they don’t see any merit in rewarding that behaviour with a pay increase”.
“It is ludicrous for McDonald’s to accuse minimum wage workers of damaging the company’s multi-billion dollar brand,” said Simon Oosterman, SuperSizeMyPay.com campaign co-ordinator. “It is the transnational’s own policy of exploitating young and vulnerable low paid workers that is damaging their business and not the steps taken by minimum wage workers to change it”. At 12 noon, Ms Moeke, representing the 1,000 McDonalds Unite union members, issued the transnational with a legal document charging the company with “unlawful failure to bargain” and “unlawful discrimination on grounds of union membership”.
Big Mac Tries The Old Divide & Conquer Tactic
Unite is seeking a compliance order against McDonald’s, a declaration of unlawful conduct, court costs and compensation to each union member for unlawful discrimination. “McDonald’s is bargaining in bad faith as it is proposing nothing but the minimum legal wage and no change in conditions on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis,” said Simon Oosterman. “The company is unlawfully undermining current bargaining and deliberately discriminating against Unite membership by saying only non members will be paid the new minimum wage of $10.25 from March 6, and that Unite members will have to wait until March 27 – three weeks later. This amounts to $90 for a fulltime worker”.
“McDonald’s is using its position as a powerful corporation with great financial resources to intimidate its workforce which is made up of young and vulnerable workers. It has orchestrated a systematic campaign to obstruct its employees from joining their union. The company has circulated a written proposal to all stores to say that an increase will only be paid to non-members. Some Unite members have been told that they will get the early increase if they resign from the union”.
Although McDonald’s is claiming that it does not bully staff, Sherilyn Webb, 16, was one of many keen union members who were intimidated by management while preparing for the strike. “My entire store was told by the manager that it was against the law to strike, which scared other union members who had wanted to go on strike into staying at work. They were too afraid of what might happen if they went on strike,” she said.
Ms Webb’s said that her union organiser, Ingrid Beckers, was sworn and yelled at by the manager and told that she was telling the workers lies by saying they could strike. “I decided to strike because I felt someone had to stand up to the intimidation and show other workers that it was possible to walk out and still keep your job. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared, but I know what my rights are and I felt I had to defend all union members’ rights”.
“The Manager was intimidating us all by telling us that it was against the law to leave or go on strike without giving the store 24 hours notice – (which we don’t have to do). She said that if we left she would take disciplinary action and serve us with written warnings. Before we clocked in, the manager had told us that the union was crap and a waste of money. She claimed the union was obviously not helping because non-union staff will get a pay rise before the union members,” she said.
“McDonald’s is willing to spend ¼ million dollars to break a small community union that is trying to get a better deal for minimum wage workers. Whatever the company’s claims, the reality is that they are paying people not to be in the union,” Simon Oosterman said. Through the legal action taken at the Employment Court, Unite is seeking compliance order against McDonald’s, a declaration of unlawful conduct, court costs and compensation to each union member for unlawful discrimination.
At time of going to print agreement has been reached between Restaurant Brands Limited (KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks) and the Unite Union in a deal which gives most workers a minimum 7.9% wage increase, big gains on youth rates and security of hours. The deal will go to ratification meetings over the next week or so (late March/early April). McDonald’s are still holding out and offering nothing but the minimum wage and union busting strategies but the pressure will rapidly mount on them as they come more into the spotlight.
Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. December 2005.
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