Labor Day, Fast Food Strikes and White Slacks

During the past month, scores of fast food workers have walked off the job to protest for a higher minimum wage. It became a national story last Thursday, when workers at 1,000 stores across the country walked out on the same day. The whole thing is being orchestrated by a union, and it got me to wondering: how many of you know anything about unions or labor law? If you are under age 40 – and this includes my fellow law professors  – probably not many of you,  given the diminished role of unions in the U.S. So, in honor of Labor Day, I am going to give you all you need know to impress your friends on Facebook – and your boss – with your expertise.

1. What is Labor Day about? It is not about watching your uncle get drunk cooking cheese brats at the family picnic. It is a federal holiday created by Congress in the 19th century to honor organized labor. Yes, organized labor – remember them? Jimmy Hoffa and the boys? Ironic, isn’t it, that corporations offer this as a paid holiday when most would rather livestream Miley Cyrus in the lunchroom than deal with a union.

2. Why didn’t the fast food workers who went on strike get fired? Probably because it improved service at the checkout counter. Seriously, it is because in most cases any group of employees can walk off the job to protest workplace issues unless they have a labor contract prohibiting it. That is what the fast food workers were doing – a group protest over work issues.

3. Labor law is only about unionized workers, right? Wrong. Federal labor law is applicable in most non-union settings and for most workers. This likely includes you if you aren’t in management.

4. You mean I can go on strike? Sure, as long as a) you aren’t a supervisor, b) your action is in concert with others, and c) it is about benefits for the group. And you don’t do anything crazy like shoot out a window or two. Of course, you can get replaced, but not fired, and if you hurry back maybe your boss will be asleep and won’t know you left.

5. Why can’t I wear my white slacks after Labor Day? Actually, you can. This is a silly fashion rule, perpetrated by Yankee types in places that have wooden runabouts floating at the end of lawns. Down here in the Deep South, we wear white whenever we want. Of course, we are also the home of “Duck Dynasty” and chewing tobacco, so you’d better make up your own mind about issues of taste.

I hope this helps. And just wait for my Halloween column.