SEIU Joins Up With Franchisees in Fight Against Fast Food Giants

May 1st 2015

Sarah Gray

On Thursday, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced an initiative with a surprising partner: franchisees. The coalition, which is named "We Are Main Street," is part of the SEIU's overall goal of raising wages for service industry workers, as part of the Fight for $15. This specific partnership is looking to restore the balance of power, which is tipped towards franchisers, such a fast food giant McDonald's.

"Workers and franchisees have a common interest in holding powerful corporations like McDonald’s accountable," Tia Orr, senior legislative director of the SEIU California State Council, said on a press call. "The same fast-food business model that locks workers in poverty also squeezes franchisees, who have no power to build better businesses. Empowering workers and franchise operators here in California would bring more balance to the industry in the state and also promote much-needed reforms in the franchise sector nationwide."

Along with unveiling the "We Are Main Street" alliance between franchisee organizations and the SEIU, the group released a survey of 1,122 franchisees, put together by Respondents to the survey came from 10 different franchise sectors, and the poll was conducted between February 16 and March 16 of this year. The results -- including the fact that 52 percent of respondents said they could not make a decent living or fair profit from their franchise -- are being used to push for legislative reform like California's Small Business Investment Protection Act.

"The results of the poll highlight the need for legislation to reform our industry,” Keith Miller, the Chairman of the Coalition of Franchisee Associations, stated on the press call. Miller is also the owner of three Subway stores. "Franchisees, as a class, are the largest investor in franchising, and as such, should be treated as co-investors in their respective brands."

Miller, who called the alliance "an odd relationship, let’s face it," also shared that franchisees are often "fighting to maintain" profit margins, which makes it difficult to pay employees a fair wage. "As a franchisee, we would love to be in a position to pay workers more, because then we can retain workers longer," Miller explained. (He also, however, said that he'd be uncomfortable if his workers unionized -- highlighting the strange nature of the SEIU alliance.)

Also joining the press call was a former McDonald's franchisee Kathryn Slater-Carter. She and her husband operated a store in California for almost 30 years -- until McDonald's declined to renew their contract.

"Just like that, McDonald’s took away a business that my husband and I had spent our lives building together," said Slater-Carter. "We had nowhere to turn – we were voiceless. Companies like McDonald’s have left franchisees no choice but to stand together to demand basic reforms needed bring balance and fairness to the franchise industry."

It was unclear from the press announcement if this alliance, and the legislation like California's that it may support, will lead to an immediate raise of fast food workers' pay. But it does represent another prong in the SEIU's attempt to pressure companies like McDonald's into better labor practices.

"McDonald's, for instance, has more than 3,000 franchisees in the U.S. who run about 90 percent of its more than 14,300 locations," the Chicago Tribune reports. So reaching out to franchisee organizations like the Coalition of Franchise Associations is an important step.

In terms of directly fighting for higher wages for workers, Fight for $15 rallies around the country are drumming up both support and awareness for fast food workers. Some fast food companies are already paying their workers above minimum wage: