President’s Column: Unions and restaurants – How union marketing and PR impacts restaurants

President’s Column: Unions and restaurants – How union marketing and PR impacts restaurants

This is article 3 of a 4 part series.

By Anthony Anton, president and CEO

Recap: The scene is front of us is straight out of an old western – two of the most well-known gunslingers are standing on either end of town; a silence settles over the buildings as each awaits the other to make the first move. Innocent townspeople stare out the windows, hoping they don’t become victims of the pending crossfire. Town leaders are pacing, worried how bad the aftermath might be.

Instead of wearing cowboy gear, one of the gunslingers is dressed in a purple shirt emblazed with union letters, and the other is wearing a burgundy visor showcasing a corporate logo. Instead of guns, both have millions of dollars in their holsters. This is not David vs. Goliath; this is two Goliaths.

Last month, in part two of this four-part article, I talked about how this showdown impacts the regulatory environment. In part three, I will focus on non-regulatory effects. How will you, the local restaurateur who is just trying to make a living, be impacted by the gunfight?

Many local restaurants can get hit by ricochet of union ammunition even though these small businesses are unlikely to ever be a part of union organizing efforts. Several progressive restaurateurs have pleaded with political allies and union friends to not be so callous about the results. The get same reply time and again, “Sorry, but you are collateral damage in a much larger fight.”

Your reputation is a target of the unions – they need to sway public opinion

One of the unions’ biggest dilemmas is that restaurants are part of the second most popular industry in the country, preceded only by software. In order to change people’s view of restaurants, it takes a lot of money and an extensive smear campaign against the whole industry. People adore their neighborhood coffeehouses, diners, bistros and bar. The public recognizes the high failure rate in the industry. Restaurants are usually owned by a neighbor or someone from the PTA. So unlike attacking a massive manufacturer or “big tobacco,” this fight is against businesses the public likes. Unions are spending huge amounts on PR firms and hiring temp workers to give the appearance of big rallies. They know they can’t win the battle without the hearts of the people.

You could be a victim of industry consolidation

Large hotels, grocery store chains and retailers that have lost or ceded to organization efforts have survived because they successfully push out most smaller or mid-sized competition. These bigger businesses can absorb the higher costs and inefficiencies of belonging to a union. If the impacts of the union legislative agenda force the closure or consolidation of thousands of small businesses, that’s an outcome both gunslingers would view as a benefit. Consolidation creates more profitable targets for organizers and less competition for corporations.

A union presence could trickle down to hit every restaurant

An organizing win by the Service Employees International Union against any of the corporate giants would generate millions in dues. Those dues would be used to organize others against mid-size targets and impact a system where unions haven’t had a stronghold. In our industry, the career ladder usually crosses six or more restaurant companies. Therefore, you would be far more likely to hire employees from a union background who will bring those traits into your culture.

The story continues

So with the impacts and risks identified, we return to this place out west – the tumbleweed blows across an empty street – a long camera angle shows the back of one gunslinger and the outline of the other on the far end of town.

In next month’s final section of this article, I will highlight what our next steps within the hospitality industry can be in response to the threat of being caught in the gunfight.

(Source: Washington Restaurant Magazine, Winter 2014)

Categories: Magazine, News Room