By writers for The Spark
Over the last month Unite Union has put the fast-food giant Burger King under the spotlight for exploitation and attempted union busting. The union is engaging in street actions, intensified industrial organising, and legal action until the company adheres to the law and industry standards.
Burger King was the last of the fast-food giants to sign a union deal after the SuperSizeMyPay campaign which took place in 2005-2006. In the years since then Burger King has kept paying below standard industry rates of pay paid by comparable companies. Conditions of work also lagged. For example, other companies agreed to 3-hour minimum shifts in 2006 but it wasn’t till years later that Burger King agreed to 2.5 hour minimum shifts.
Burger King has remained as the fast-food company paying the lowest wages. For those employed at KFC the union has negotiated for staff to move to 0.96 cents above minimum wage once the first level of training is completed. In McDonald’s the staff get 0.50 cents above minimum after basic training, and in Wendy’s most staff are able to get 0.50 cents above minimum wage after six months service. These increases are attained quite quickly by most employees. However, Burger King does not agree to relativity clauses and there are instances where staff who have been employed for ten years still struggle on minimum wage. The difference is even greater in relation to higher-graded work. In KFC the line supervisor rate has been negotiated up to $19.68, however the highest union rate at Burger King is well below that with product/service coordinators beings paid $14.25.
Union membership at Burger King suddenly declined in the May-June period this year and the union has clear evidence of instances where chains of management have been involved in trying to get union members to leave the union. The union has evidence that the company gave targets to managers to compel them to induce union members to leave the union. Unite has taken up such matters by putting an application to the Employment Relations Authority.
Usually the reason that a company tries to influence union members to resign from the union is so that the bargaining power of the union is reduced and the union is therefore able to negotiate less improvements to wages and conditions. Essentially a union agreement – its content and how good it is - is a snapshot of the power relationship between the employer and the union membership. By reducing the size and confidence of the union membership a company reduces that union’s ability to bargain for better wages and conditions.
As well as making an application to the Employment Relations Authority on the matter of undue influence on the matter of union membership, Unite has put emphasis on a number of other issues present throughout Burger King, such as exploitation of migrant workers and a culture of bullying in some stores by some managers.
Unite lead a teach-in at the Civic Square Burger King store in Auckland’s Queen Street. This raised issues around the treatment of Burger King workers particularly from India and the Philippines. Unite has reported on working on cases where sponsorship for work visas have been unreasonably withdrawn. The threat to withdraw work visas is used to put pressure on migrant workers to meet highly unreasonable employer expectations “doing anything and everything demanded by the BK bosses in the hopes they get the prized training offer”. The teach-in coincided with the launch by FIRST union of a union migrant workers network. FIRST represents workers in the retail, wood, energy, transport, finance, and other sectors.
Union officials and members have also highlighted bullying and poor management practice, including the physical assault of a worker by a manager and the practice of pad-locking fire exits with padlocks.
The company claims that the union hasn’t followed procedure by contacting it first about issues before going to the media. However, the company doesn’t fix issues in the normal way when they are raised. This was shown where Unite had formally approached the company on two occasions about the pad-locking of fire-exits and yet the practice continued.
Other picket actions have taken place at BK stores around the country, including by BK employees in Whangarie, Blenheim, and New Lynn. The union has also stepped up its recruitment efforts nation-wide to build the union within Burger King and to prepare for next year’s negotiations.