US: Bosses’ terrorism on the job

Interview with a Pizza Hut worker fighting for a union

Pizza Hut workers in Tacoma and Seattle have initiated a campaign to organize a union to improve their ghastly conditions. Pizza Hut has responded with lies, intimidation, and threats of retaliation to scare workers out of supporting the union. Elicia Preston from Justice spoke with Brent, a Pizza Hut driver and Socialist Alternative member, about his experiences organizing Pizza Hut workers to stand up to the abuses of a fast-food mega-corporation.

How do Pizza Hut managers treat their employees?

Our society purports to treasure democracy while the majority of Americans live under essentially totalitarian conditions at work. Managers are unelected officials, wielding dictatorial powers over workers. The fear of getting fired and facing an uncertain job market and possible homelessness is an invisible gun in the back of every worker.

Pizza Hut is no different. Once I heard a manager say, "If you forget your nametag again tomorrow, you can forget about working here." She was literally considering firing this guy over a nametag.

Is there a high turnover rate that affects attempts to organize?

Currently, a minimum-wage job is all that’s available for many people, including honors college graduates like me. There’s been 1.1 million jobs shipped overseas since 2000. The jobs created by the supposed economic comeback are mostly low-paying. When [Pizza Hut delivery drivers] do leave, it’s usually not by choice. After putting a tremendous amount of wear on their car delivering pizzas, a driver’s car collapses and the company simply replaces that driver.

What has the company done to prevent unionization?

Almost everything, including blaming the delivery charge increase on 9/11! At mandatory anti-union meetings for 61 stores, workers were forced to watch a propaganda video and listen to the company president bash unions. There were so many lies I couldn’t begin to respond. Most of the employees had never been in a union and some didn’t know what one was. Consequently, the majority believed the propaganda.

In addition, companies often fire workers attempting to organize, and simply pay the small fine. As with our organizer who was fired, it’s difficult to prove that a company dismissed a worker for organizing. Around 10,000 illegal firings occur annually.

What would you say to other workers looking to unionize to improve their living conditions?

It’s a daunting task, but possible. The company’s reactions demonstrate how powerful workers are. Only 15 stores supported organizing, and the company was terrified. They repeatedly gave the same expensive, drawn-out presentation on the evils of unions, during which the company president had to endure all manner of verbal abuse.

He also took a "good-will" tour of Western Washington, riding with drivers. That meant being ferried about in particularly filthy automobiles. When he rode with me, I made certain to leave a healthy dose of garbage for him to sit in.

Also, we extracted some concessions, such as a $.20/hour raise for delivery drivers. And the company now pays the taxes on driver bonus checks. It’s not great, but it’s a start.

From Justice, journal of Socialist Alternative, cwi in the US.

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October 2004