As activists continue to organize demonstrations at McDonalds, Walmart and other low-wage firms, big protests are planned against retailers for mistreating their workers this Black Friday. In response, union-busting consultants are ramping up efforts to marginalize them.
Last night—Worker Center Watch, a new website dedicated to attacking labor-affiliated activist groups like OUR Walmart, Restaurant Opportunities Center, and Fast Food Forward—began sponsoring advertisements on Twitter to promote smears against the protests planned for Black Friday. In one video sponsored by the group, activists demanding a living wage and better working conditions for workers are portrayed as lazy “professional protesters” who “haven’t bothered to get jobs themselves.”
“This Black Friday, just buy your gifts, not their lies,” instructs the Worker Center Watch narrator. Watch it:
Worker Center Watch has no information its website about its sponsors. Yet the group attacks labor activists and community labor groups for lacking transparency. “Hiding behind these non-profits, unions mask their true motivations, circumvent operational requirements and skirt reporting and disclosure obligations,” says Worker Center Watch, referring to labor-supported worker centers like OUR Walmart.
TheNation.com has discovered that Worker Center Watch was registered by the former head lobbyist for Walmart. Parquet Public Affairs, a Florida-based government relations and crisis management firm for retailers and fast food companies, registered the Worker Center Watch website.
The firm is led by Joseph Kefauver, formerly the president of public affairs for Walmart and government relations director for Darden Restaurants. Throughout the year, Parquet executives have toured the country, giving lectures to business groups on how to combat the rise of what has been called “alt-labor.” At a presentation in October for the National Retail Federation, a trade group for companies like Nordstrom and Nike, Kefauver’s presentation listed protections against wage theft, a good minimum wage and mandated paid time off as the type of legislative demands influenced by the worker center protesters.
The presentation offered questions for the group, including: “How Aggressive Can We Be?” and “How do We Challenge the Social Justice Narrative?”
It seems retailers are now experimenting with how aggressive they can be. Today, Parquet’s Worker Center Watch posted a link to a Breitbart News story featuring a video allegedly obtained by someone who infiltrated an Occupy activist group planning to demonstrate against Walmart.
The alarm at how quickly the new organizing model has taken off has sparked anxiety among business executives. Littler Mendelson, a law firm that helps companies defeat labor unions, released a report outlining the challenge for corporate executives. The US Chamber of Commerce, a dark-money group that counts Walmart and McDonalds as members, produced a similar study last week.
Corporations fear that the new wave of activism could have a multiplier effect that goes way beyond better pay and benefits for their workers.
In a webinar hosted this month for business executives seeking a “union-free workplace,” Nancy Jowske explained that the alt-labor model could heavily influence millennials and their perceptions of labor unions. “One of the things to consider about what’s going there with SEIU’s Fight for 15 and all of this is the millennial generation,” said Jowske, a former SEIU organizer turned union-buster, “they are getting a steady diet of pro-union from every possible direction.” She added, “this is also a generation that is very class-conscious” and explained that the current alt-labor protests could incite future organizing drives. Jowske also cited a recent In These Times piece to argue that worker centers can be portrayed as “union front groups,” and warned that the alt-labor organizing model could have a long-term impact. For instance, the organizing model appears to help unions and community groups forge close ties that could be later used to deploy activists for political campaigns, workplace NLRB elections and other left-wing causes.
Lee Fang is a fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, now known as Type Investigations. This post originally appeared at TheNation.com.