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As Unionization Efforts Grow, Lobbyists Push Back Hard

Like in New York construction, restaurant organizers are fighting an uphill battle


Restaurant workers like Nikki Perri, a server at French 75 in Denver, have experienced extreme economic and health uncertainty, stresince the beginning of  the pandemic. Their efforts to organize and gain representation have met strong push back from the restaurant lobby. -- Hart Van Denburg / CPR)

Today more than 7 out of 10 American adults approve of unions. That’s per a recent Gallup poll. Meanwhile, just 1 in 10 Americans actually belongs to a union. That enormous disparity is the success of powerful forces that pull every lever they can to make unionization more difficult if not impossible.

Here on we focus on issues affecting New York City’s construction unions. But take a peek into other industries where management is in a death match to defeat organizing workers, and you’ll find some of the same battles that construction unions have fought, and continue to fight, to achieve equality with management.

Take the restaurant service industry where the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers is still $2.13 an hour. This meager pay pails against the still-ridiculous federal minimum wage that remains stuck at $7.25 an hour. (In 2023, when a gallon of gas costs over $3 and one dozen eggs costs over $4, it seems particularly vindictive that these pay standards remain at 1975 levels.)

Despite receiving pay that is well (well) below the national poverty level, restaurant workers suffered even greater turmoil resulting from Covid. During the height of the pandemic restaurant workers died in higher numbers than almost any other profession.

Meanwhile, during the worst throes of the disease’s siege, the lobbying group that represents restaurant management, the National Restaurant Association (NRA), pressed state and local governments to keep restaurants open to the public. This manipulation surely increased the number of cases and deaths among its workers.

These put-upon workers emerged from that financially devastating pandemic with eyes opened. Many of them simply left the industry. Many who stayed showed new motivation to organize and fight for better pay, better benefits, and more work-life balance.

In an industry where CEOs are compensated in the multi-millions, their lobbyists fight to keep employee's subminimum wage (for tipped workers) at $2.13 an hour


New York restaurant workers strike for fairer wages. -- Photo courtesy of Restaurant Opportunities Center United

Restaurant management is not pleased. Despite having a long record of success in oppressing unionization efforts by employees, they now have reason to be nervous. Unionization efforts have been started in chains like Chipotle, Starbucks, Taco Bell and McDonalds. The midwestern coffee shop Colectivo became the largest coffee chain to completely unionize.

So NRA lobbyists are now responding to the “threat.” They are redoubling their efforts to woo national politicians to represent their cause by inviting them to speak at large corporate conferences. This free exposure is a clear attempt to influence politicians’ efforts to go against organizing.

The NRA is also spending large sums lobbying lower levels of government, in key cities and states. And they are seeing results. In one such state-level campaign, an NRA member bragged that they had successfully stopped the effort to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

And today the NRA continues to fight against state and federal sick leave, against raising the federal minimum wage, and to keep the subminimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13 an hour. Tipped workers are

disproportionately minorities and women, and, to no one’s surprise, are more likely to live in poverty. Meanwhile, John Zillmer, the CEO of Aramark, an NRA sponsor, brought home $13,324,828 in 2022, according to


Aramark CEO John Zillmer earned over $13 million in 2022 according to The lobbyists his firm sponsors are fighting to keep the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13 an hour. --Photo

The NRA knows, like many other management-sponsored lobbyists who toil year-in and -out to destroy unions and put more money in the pockets of their already-very-wealthy benefactors, how to manipulate politicians, city boards, state houses, and national pols to create laws intended to obliterate unions.

In a recent issue of The Lever, journalist David Sirota published a telling expose that inspired this piece. In “Fear And Loathing Among The Union Busters,” Sirota opens a window into the minds of those who represent the powerful against the wishes of the workers. It’s a must-read for anyone with an opinion on organizing.

Union representation creates better trained workers, fairer pay, and safer work places. The result is a staff that is able to focus more on task, which creates better product. Whether seeking a better built home or a better meal, look for union-made product.

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