SEIU Leans on Research “House of Cards” To Encroach on Restaurant Industry

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been attacking restaurants for years in efforts to gain a foothold for organizing the industry. In its latest attempt, the SEIU filed a public comment brief with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) citing all of its reasons current franchising agreements are “harmful.” But just like so-called “research” that came before out of the SEIU, on closer inspection it stands on very shallow ground.

In its brief to the FTC, the SEIU claims franchises should be regulated due to the union’s own assessment of so-called “ills” created by franchising agreements. To bolster this claim, the SEIU cites 2015 and 2016 polls conducted by its go-to pollsters at Hart Research, which developed surveys to paint the fast food industry as uniquely responsible for various workplace violations.

The brief then features research from the National Employment Law Project and the University of California Los Angeles Labor Center, both of which have partnered with with the SEIU. This “research” accuses fast food employers of being acutely responsible for wage and hour violations.

Yet when observing the state’s own data on wage and hour violations by industry, the Employment Policies Institute finds fast food restaurants and franchisees are responsible for a disproportionately low share of wage theft violations, both in claims filed and fines levied for investigated cases. In California, where the union is pushing for joint-employer regulations on franchised fast food locations, EPI found franchisee-owned fast food restaurants were responsible for just 0.65% of all wage claims filed in the state, far lower than their share of statewide employment (1.7%).

Total fines assessed against California’s franchisee-owned fast food restaurants show these employers represent just four-tenths of one percent of all fines levied statewide. That figure is even less than franchisee-owned fast food restaurants’ share of all wage claims filed.

The brief also uses pandemic-era research backed by the SEIU and affiliated research centers to place blame on fast food restaurants and franchisees for disproportionate outbreaks of COVID-19. This argument was again found faulty upon EPI’s further investigation. Reviewing California Department of Public Health data for Spring 2021, coronavirus outbreaks were significantly more prevalent in other industries, and restaurants accounted for a fraction of outbreaks of industries such as manufacturing and retail trade. Restaurants also had fewer cases per outbreak than many other more unionized industries.

These are the same studies funded by the SEIU to prop up AB 257, the FAST Recovery Act aimed at creating an unelected regulatory commission with a goal of setting workplace standards for the entire fast food industry in California. SEIU activists have indicated other states will also likely see similar legislation.

When voters and business owners learned about the SEIU’s misleading and harmful campaign against the fast food industry through the FAST Act, a campaign to halt the law gained over one million signatures to successfully place it on the ballot as a referendum in 2024.

Since it has been unable to fleece the industry that way, the SEIU is grasping at this new franchising angle to expand its unionizing power in fast food restaurants. Yet the case relies on circular references to its own funded research which does not stand up to scrutiny.

The Federal Trade Commission, and voters nationwide, should take a close look at the union’s lacking case.