Mayo, Mustard, or Communism? Radical Union Tries to Organize Minneapolis Sandwich Shop

This morning voting started at nine Jimmy John’s restaurants in the Minneapolis area. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is attempting to unionize several Jimmy John’s sandwich stores.

As I reported in the American Spectator earlier this week, the vote is significant for two reasons. First, only 1.3 percent of workers in the fast food industry union members. A Jimmy John’s union could be a forerunner to several other fast food unions. Second, the IWW is an avowed communist organization that doesn’t mince words about its goals.

The preamble to its constitution states that “between [the working class and the employing class] a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the earth…. It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism.”

Wednesday The New York Times noted:

Most unions have shied away from trying to organize fast-food workers because the employees tend to be young, with high turnover. But that has not dissuaded the Industrial Workers of the World, which tried to organize workers at Starbucks coffee shops without success.

A century ago, the I.W.W. — better known as the Wobblies — was a swaggering, radical union with 100,000 members and legendary leaders like Mary Harris Jones (known as Mother Jones) and Big Bill Haywood. The union often clashed with police officers and Pinkerton security guards as it organized lumberjacks, dockworkers and miners.

These days, the Wobblies have just 1,600 members in the United States, and have union contracts with a handful of employers. But if they can flex their muscles anywhere, it may be in organizing the Jimmy John’s workers of Minneapolis. Union supporters say more than 60 percent of the workers signed cards asking for a unionization election.

“A union in fast food is an idea whose time has come,” said Emily Przybylski, a bike delivery worker at Jimmy John’s who is also a social work student at the University of Minnesota. “There are millions of workers in this industry living in poverty, with no consistent scheduling, no job security and no respect. It’s time for change.”

Mike Mulligan, the franchisee who owns the Jimmy John’s shops here, is pressing employees to vote against joining the I.W.W., which he says is a dangerous “socialist-anarchist organization” that “proudly preaches the overthrow of capitalism.”

“This is a group hellbent on bringing down someone, anyone, in the fast-food industry, and we just happened to be the next on the list,” said Mr. Mulligan, a retired senior vice president with Supervalu, a national grocery company.

Fast food unions would be expensive for consumers. If labor costs go up, so will prices on the menu. If those chains are also forced to pay higher wages and benefits based not on what the market will bear but on how hard a bargain union negotiators can derive, they will not be able to offer the low food prices consumers enjoy.

The IWW is targeting students for their unionization effort. The union is correct that youth unemployment is a serious problem. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, “July 2010 marks the first time in the history of the series that less than half of all youth 16 to 24 years old were employed in that month.” However, raising the cost of employment will not help low-skilled workers. If employers are reluctant to hire young people now, they will be even more so if young people become more expensive.

Here is an economics 101 lesson for the students trying to organize: When the price of a product or service goes up, demand for that product or service decreases. Yet students are cheaper to hire than other workers, but that’s because they do not have the experience, skills, and knowledge of veteran workers. Indeed, by raising the cost of employing workers at Jimmy John’s, some workers may  organize themselves out of a job.

From The New York Times:

Steven Smith, a 42-year-old meat cutter who earns $8.35 an hour after three years, also opposes the union. He said it would be difficult for Mr. Mulligan to pay much more than minimum wage because his competitors generally pay the same amount. “How much do you expect to get paid for making a baloney sandwich or cutting a pickle in half?” Mr. Smith said. “This is not rocket science.”