PH fast food workers form alliance; US counterparts attend launching

WORKERS from the country’s leading fast food chains linked up with trade union, youth and community organizations in an initial step to establishing an alliance that would push for the rights and welfare of fast food workers, which are rampantly violated and neglected.

About 50 mostly young people employed in various branches in Metro Manila of top fast food establishments along with trade union and youth activists participated in their inaugural whole-day meeting in Quezon City yesterday dubbed “Happy Camp” – a pun on McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Provisionally called Respect Fast Food Workers Alliance, the group plans to expand its membership to as many fast food joints as possible and to eventually extend its reach to other key areas in Luzon as well as in the Visayas and Mindanao.

The assembly delegates came from homegrown sister companies Jollibee – the Philippines’ No. 1 fast food restaurant – Chowking, Mang Inasal and Greenwich Pizza; along with local franchises of US-based global firms McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Shakey’s Pizza.

Two McDonald’s workers from the US representing the Fight for $15 movement’s chapter in Los Angeles, California attended the launching to express their solidarity to their Filipino colleagues while sharing their experiences in working in America’s similarly exploitative fast food industry and their efforts to organize themselves to effectively address their plight.

The Fight for $15 started in New York last year when employees from different McDonald’s branches held successive strikes against low salaries, but which later spread to other US cities and evolved into a national movement of fast food and retail workers who are campaigning for $15 an hour living wage and the right to form a union without management retaliation.

McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain, pioneered the widespread use and abuse of contractual labor in the multibillion-dollar fast food industry – setting off today’s familiar hiring of mostly youthful workers with low wages, scarce benefits and no security of tenure, or derisively called “McJobs” – and also became infamous for its almost fanatical resistance to trade unions.

Boosting the demands and lawsuits filed by the Fight for $15, the US National Labor Relations Board ruled last July 29 that McDonald’s could be named as a “joint employer” in several complaints of labor rights’ violations even at restaurants owned and operated by its franchisees, which account for the vast majority of McDonald’s over 14,000 joints in the US.

It signifies that McDonald’s – and other unscrupulous fast food companies for that matter – could no longer “hide behind its franchisees” and to feign innocence for the long list of abusive acts against McDonald’s workers, including those not directly employed by the corporation but by its numerous franchisees or affiliate firms.

McDonald’s notorious anti-worker and anti-union practices are widely imitated in the rapidly growing global fast food industry – this year’s sales alone are projected to reach $239.7 billion – especially by other fast food transnational corporations like Burger King, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, KFC and many others, which all operate also in the Philippines.

The said practices are likewise followed by the local fast food firms, including the industry leader Jollibee, which is infamous too for its low pays and routine use of “endo” or “end-of-contract” workers with short-term and precarious work arrangements and also called “5-5-5” scheme where workers are endlessly hired and fired every five months to prevent them from becoming permanent or regular workers.

The fledgling local alliance of fast food workers is being assisted by the national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) and the global union IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations).

The IUF is also providing some help to the Fight for $15 movement – described as “an ever-expanding coalition of community, labor and faith-based groups” – that includes the ongoing campaign and solidarity tour of US-based McDonald’s workers in eight countries (including the Philippines) in three continents.

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