While Fight for 15 protests rumble across the country, chasing the primary races, the country’s top labor board has just delivered a preliminary victory on the path to $15 and a union for fast-food workers.
The case dates back to spring 2015 at a Burger King outlet in Missouri, where a small group of workers protested for labor justice and paid dearly for it. Since late 2012, the national campaign, supported by the Service Employees International Union, has been launching periodic work stoppages and coordinating civil disobedience actions, snowballing into a global movement for low-pay workers demanding a living wage and union rights. Though the protests have generally been tolerated by individual employers (while the fast-food industry has emphatically resisted policy measures to improve wages and working conditions), there have been some instances when workers were punished for their activism. When several workers, including a leading Kansas City organizer, encountered mistreatment and retaliation in response to their protests, the Fight for 15 waged a legal challenge, and after months of litigation, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has validated the workers’ right to organize.
According to the NLRB complaint, when the strikers returned to work after their April 15 day of protest, the higher-ups at the franchise immediately made their displeasure clear by disciplining the strikers. Manager Kelly Sharts allegedly told the workers she had been advised to issue write-ups to the strikers, but ultimately, perhaps out of empathy, she changed their schedules instead, telling them, “I took you guys off the schedule. That’s not right to write you up, so don’t worry about it.”
Around the same time, Terrence Wise, a veteran Fight for 15 campaigner at the restaurant, ended up losing his job, apparently in response to his high-profile activism—which had for months involved organizing, protesting, and filing NLRB charges for labor violations. Following a change in management, workers had to apply to be rehired, and Wise was pointedly rejected.
According to the legal transcript, the manager, Reda Hayes, took Wise aside at work and explained “the bad news”:
That she hated to do this, that she knew he had a family to support, and she hated losing one of her best workers. Wise told Hayes that he knew that she was just doing what she was instructed to do. Hayes said that she and other managers had complained that they have problems too and maybe they should go to the NLRB, and Wise agreed.