Once again, one man has dictated a major change of federal law that could cost American families dearly.
That change may double the price of your Big Mac, Whopper, fried chicken, doughnuts or other fare at your local fast-food restaurant.
Where’s the beef coming from? Surprise! This time it’s neither President Obama nor Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. who is twisting the law like a pretzel from Auntie Anne’s. It’s Richard F. Griffin, Jr., the president’s hand-picked choice for the all-powerful position as general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.
Mr. Griffin has declared that millions of Americans who work for franchise restaurants aren’t merely employees of the owners of the business, regardless of what their paychecks and the tax records say. Reversing decades of clear legal precedents, he declares that from now on those workers are the “joint” employees of McDonald's and the other big franchises companies as well as the local store owners.
Now the big labor bosses no longer would face the challenge of trying to organize each separate restaurant into a local bargaining unit. They can go after all staff at all the Pizza Huts, all the KFCs or all the Starbucks at the same time.
Never mind that local franchisees hire and fire their own people. Mr. Griffin treats the operations as though they are identical photocopies from a FedEx Kinko’s franchise.
The unions’ top goal is to double the starting pay from the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. Expect the price of a burger and fries to be supersized along with the wages. The Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers already have extensive multimillion-dollar corporate pressure campaigns up and running, which they call the “Fight for 15.”
So where did Richard Griffin acquire his wisdom to overturn employment law? He practiced and perfected his impartiality during his decades as general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers, as a director of the AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee, and doing other work for the IUOE. He was confirmed by the Senate nine months ago after Mr. Obama appointed him NLRB’s general counsel, a position that carries the power to interpret labor law. Previously Mr. Obama selected Mr. Griffin for a seat on the NLRB itself, but that was one of the president’s now-invalid recess appointments.
Mr. Griffin’s ruling technically only applies to a case involving McDonald's for now, but the principle (or lack of it) will carry over to other franchises. All 12,700 McDonald's locations would be declared one huge joint employer, even though the parent company only owns a fifth of the local franchises. Appeals will take years to work through the bureaucracy and the courts.
The trade associations for the franchisors warn that millions of jobs are at risk and that many franchise owners will back away from any plans to expand or hire.
Will anyone benefit?
Workers who expect a big raise will find themselves waiting for years of litigation to end. Thanks to Obamacare, business already was booming for makers of order-it-yourself “robo-menus,” meant to replace actual workers. Higher hourly wages will accelerate that trend. And non-franchised mom-and-pop stores may gain a competitive advantage.
The whole NLRB maneuver demonstrates how the Obama administration continues to bypass Congress and use executive branch edicts to transform society. Every day there’s a new surprise. If you don’t like surprises, better go try a Holiday Inn.
• Ernest Istook is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. Listen online to his daily talk radio show at KZLSam.com, noon to 3 p.m. ET. Get his free email newsletter by signing up at eepurl.com/JPojD.