Subadhra Sriram's Blog

When Picketers are Temps

Temp worker flexibility has been stretched to a whole new level.  Here’s how it goes down.

There’s a strike to protest a lack of benefits. Union A hires temps to dissent alongside picketing union members.  Of course these workers don’t receive benefits, either.

Union A’s company also hires temps to replace the employees out striking. (In the past, this has been a common practice.)

But now, workers are being paid to stand up for rights. It’s not the cause or the desire to seek redress from maltreatment that is drawing these protesters. It’s the money.

The real kicker is that it’s okay and legal to do so.  Organizers of a recent protest against Walmart offered the retailer’s employees $50 each to show up and protest. The gift cards, however, were only for Walmart employees.

National Labor Relations Board lawyers okayed a major union's practice of paying people to protest against Walmart in a legal memorandum earlier in November. The federal labor law enforcement agency said the practice of paying workers $50 apiece to join protests “did not constitute unlawful … coercion of employees.”

The irony, however, is that the media reporting on recent protests, including against Walmart, found few actual employees among the protesters, despite the offer of money according to the news media.

But being paid to protest a cause? It rings wrong, somehow.  Picketers have been seen as crusaders, standing up for what they believe in, braving the elements, fighting the establishment, often starving and even jailed for their beliefs. Using low-paid non-union temps as dissenters seems morally wrong.

On the other hand, jobs are scarce and people need to eat. If “protesting” for a few hours means money for both the worker and the staffing firm, why say no? It’s business, after all. And recent developments seem to indicate that this could be a growing trend. What do you think?  Comment below.


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