Image: A looming McDonald's sign in Wrocław, Poland. Daria Volkova, 2022, Unsplash License.

My McUnion 

A fast-food worker learns unionization tactics while working to organize their restaurant

Here’s the thing about working in fast food—it sucks.

Put yourself in the shoes of a fast food worker. You’re assigned to a shift from 3 o’clock in the afternoon to 11 at night, only just finding out about your schedule the day before you’re supposed to work. You drive to your job, barely able to afford the gas on your paycheck. They pay you minimum wage, which in my home state of Pennsylvania is $7.25—and that’s before tax. 

Your shift is only one of three for the whole week. You requested more hours from the manager, but you were told that there wasn’t enough room on the schedule for you to work any longer. You tried to look for other jobs, but there aren’t many places looking for someone with 3 years of experience in fast food—the only other openings being other low-end restaurants that are too far out for you to afford driving there on a regular basis.

You arrive at your job, finding the drive-thru is packed with about 10 different cars. You walk in to hear the loud silence of people rushing through orders. It seems like for every car that comes through, five more come in its wake. The staff aren’t speaking to each other; only the sounds of people talking to customers or the occasional call for a larger batch of fries are heard. The familiar clinging of spatulas on the grill resonates, the sounds of the grills cooking and sizzling fills your ears.

You push past the chaos to go to clock in and your manager is already yelling at you to hurry up, to get your ass moving because these orders won’t make themselves. You sigh and prepare yourself, watching the electronic signature recognize your thumbprint as you wait for the go ahead to go work. You’re sitting there, observing the clamor of your job, hoping that you can avoid working as much as possible.

A green check-mark fills the machine. You’re clocked in.

Suddenly, you’re rushing to your position on the grill station. You need two orders of burgers, no wait, make that three. Before you get that, make sure you put some chicken down. Can you help the person on the prep table? No one’s cleaned the table yet, so you need to wipe everything down before management sees. Send this one order out, the customer’s been waiting on it for hours. Your manager’s yelling at you to move quicker.

Any stressors you have outside of work can wait—they don’t matter when you’re at your McHome Away From Home. As you’re working, losing track of the hours as you’re forced into your lunch rush mode, you’re silently hoping for something better. You’re tired of biting your tongue while receiving blatant verbal abuse on the regular. You’re exhausted just from being there twenty minutes—oh wait, it’s only been two. 

You’re sitting there, hoping and wishing for something more. There has to be something better, right? There has to be something more to this than what you’re currently stuck with. There’s gotta be something better for you out there, or some way to help you get treated better.

At this point, there isn’t anything to lose. It’s time to get what we rightfully deserve.


This is what the three million fast and counter food workers go through every day. The struggles of working at a loathsome dead-end job, somewhere they won’t get rewarded for a fraction of their labor. It’s an unfortunate reality for many, one that has to be lived day in and day out.

It’s a reality I tried to remedy. A few years ago, I tried to unionize the McDonald’s I worked at.

The unionization efforts started sometime in late 2018. I was working a long shift with a friend of mine, and we were spending it the way we usually did—working when the managers were looking back at us, and turning our heads away to joke around behind their backs. We were sitting there talking about work—what we liked about our job, what we didn’t, and what we wanted to see improve. We had a lot more to say about what we didn’t like than what we did.

It was a brief conversation, but one that stuck with me. We weren’t discussing anything notable, only the humdrum of work, but something about talking with another employee on the floor of our job about what we didn’t like about it was inspiring to me. It appealed to me.

I had already been a leftist. I had long been reading literature on direct action, and had already read up and formed my own view of unions. So, it didn’t take long before the thought of a union occurred to me. I reasoned that the best time to talk about it would be right then, to address our emotions right on the workfloor while they were still fresh.

This was my first mistake.

When you’re unionizing a workplace, you should never talk to other employees about it on the floor. We did this in the confines of a small McDonald’s, where if it weren’t for the whirring of the machines around us, we’d be as audible as anyone could ever be. This holds the risk of exposing the union to management, and doing that right away is a recipe for disaster.

When your union starts off small, there’s little stopping management (provided you work at an at-will employment place) from firing you on the spot for some nonsensical reason like ‘bad behavior’ and such. This is one of the core questions that comes with unionizing—‘how do I approach people in the right way?’

Image: McDonald’s Offices. Mateusz D, 2021, Unsplash License.

Luckily, we didn’t get caught by management this time, although there were some close calls throughout our shift. Numerous times during our conversation would we see a manager manning the up-front—that’s how we referred to the area that handled taking orders—running back to restock on various things like napkins and cups, or telling us to make an order special. This was one thing that posed a major risk.

However, we did manage to do one thing right. We had talked outside of work, using Facebook as a means to communicate on the outside. We carried on our conversation after work, talking about solutions to the problems built into the place. This was where I suggested unionization to this friend.

They were immediately on board.

With our army of two, we had a daunting task ahead of us. We had no experience unionizing, no clue how to get the workplace of nearly a hundred employees on board with taking action. How would we figure out what to do? We were two young adults barely making minimum wage who understood the basics of how unions worked—strikes were a thing, right?—but had little know-how beyond that. We needed help.

That’s where Mark comes in.

Mark1All names changed for anonymity. was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and had previous experience unionizing environments across the greater Scranton region. Mark was connected to the local activist circles I was a part of, and was relatively easy to reach out to for guidance. He was our lead and doorway into the world of unionizing, specifically solidarity unions.

See, there are ultimately two different types of unions out there. You have your standard model of unions—get a plurality of the workforce on board, vote in union elections for leadership, elect someone to represent you, sign a contract negotiated by your leadership, and go from there.

Then there’s the IWW model, known as solidarity unions.2For a good source on the nature of solidarity unionism, and how syndicalists in the IWW distinguish it from what they call “business unionism,” see Staughton Lynd, Solidarity Unionism (2015) from PM Press. –Eds. This aims to take a different approach than the typical image of a union in the public eye. Rather than seeing a union election as the final goal, it aims to have the workers take action among themselves and organize actions like strikes, walk-outs, and so forth amongst each other. It doesn’t prioritize elections, in fact it doesn’t have elections at all. It focuses on direct action amongst the workforce, pushing against capital in the swiftest way possible.3For an overview of the sorts of problems that emerge with the traditional or “business union” model of labor organizing, we recommend our interview with the Shift Change caucus of the National Nurses’ Union, which provides an in-depth case study of the ways a bureaucratic union “leadership” can sell out the rank and file. –Eds.

This guy was where we learned about the difference between the two models. He gave us a choice between the two for which he would help us pursue—we chose the latter.

There’s clear benefits to both sides, however the former tends to get bogged down with bureaucracy and internal politics, whereas the latter gets to focus on directly helping those who are unionizing their workplace. It was a simple choice from there on which we’d ought to select.

We’d have these distinctions explained to us at specific meetings. These meetings would take place over a couple hours every week or so. They’d consist of us getting together in some small, locally owned Scranton cafe that would be bustling with activity, with all of us being tucked away in some corner of the place, quietly saying words about a union.

We’d have a decent few of these meetings throughout the union’s lifecycle, with Mark sharing valuable bits of information for us in the midst of our discussions. We’d be continuously going over the specific nitty-gritty details of a union, how it’d work, what the conditions were like, and so forth. While we did often text information to one another on a more quick basis, it was these meetings that consisted of the bulk of the education that was going on.

This was one of the things we did right.

Consulting an outside, more experienced union organizer was one of the best moves we made when taking on the task of unionizing the place. We had little knowledge, and these meetings gave us the confidence and know-how to actually put what we wanted to in practice. With them, we were able to move on from a couple of scrappy teenagers who barely had an idea what they were doing onto a set of people who could actually make a difference.

It helped that Mark was a gateway into a broader world of unionization resources as well. He would share with us not just his own information, but the means to find out more on our own—websites such as Labor Notes, books such as Labor Law for the Rank & File, shared and given to us to expand what we knew about unions and how they work. Mark diligently ensured that we had the right foundation for what we wanted to set forth.

When you’re unionizing any sort of workplace, getting outside help from more experienced organizers can only benefit you in the long term. While it isn’t a way to guarantee success, having someone there who’s willing to coach you through the specifics of it is a gamechanger when you’re unionizing anywhere. They don’t have to be as involved as Mark was—something as simple as someone who gives you a little bit of advice now and then can go a long way, because you can get your information tailored to you and your specific circumstance in a way that isn’t able to be replicated anywhere else. There isn’t any experience quite like having your own personal unionization guide there to help you along the path you’ll be walking.


The meetings with Mark didn’t start off with us planning anything like a strike or a walkout. They were much more gradual in the beginning. Mark didn’t want us to focus on planning an immediate insurrection, or even any sort of quick move to raise awareness for our cause. These beginning stages were about setting the foundation for what plans we’d make going forward. Mark wanted to know the inner workings of our McDonald’s branch, he wanted to understand what the internal operations were like, and—above all else—who were the people that worked there.

There’s a core concept to unionizing that, while it goes by many names, we’ll refer to as a community leader. In essence, in any workforce, clique, community, or other such gathering of people, you’ll find select individuals that tend to be at the center of the place’s social relations. They’re the ones who are the ‘glue’ that holds together different friend groups, the folk that you’ll find to be talking to everyone at any given time.

Community leaders are crucial for union organizing. They tend to have the most sway over their fellow colleagues, as they’re often a guiding force and source of advice for many people. While they give off a strong sense of authority, they’re not often in positions of authority. It is possible for community leaders to be managers, no doubt, but holding a bit of occupational authority over their peers—with all the strings attached of worrying about performance and whether they’ll fire people—tends to make them less someone of the people, and more someone above the people.

Mark wanted us to chart out who the community leaders were. If we were to focus on anyone that might be worth talking to the union about, it’d have to be those who could spread word quick and get mounds of different people all on board with this idea. His proposed idea for how to do this varied in execution: we could make a Google Doc about social relations in detail, create a graph linking everyone together, or even just have a simple list of names and how we perceived their significance.

He also wanted us to keep an eye on people who were either on the path to become managers, or were sticklers for the rules. Many members of the working class buy into the propaganda that if they work hard enough, then they too can get recognized and become the boot over people’s necks. It’s common for unionization efforts to be thwarted by people who want to see themselves rising through the ranks, or who may be likely to snitch and cause everything to fall apart.

Beyond that, Mark also wanted us to keep an eye on how friendships were formed with managers too. It’s very common in places such as this for people to get close to their managers and see them as people they could trust. A decent few of us, for instance, were close friends with certain managers and often hung out with them outside of work. Mark especially cautioned, however, that when it came to unionization almost no manager out there is your friend. They’re trained and forced by their superiors to catch unions from the beginning and prevent them from growing, and are taught to view them as a threat. While it is theoretically possible for a manager to join unionization efforts, the risks far outweigh the rewards.

Beyond that, we also had to determine what exactly our demands were going to be. There was a lot to consider, and Mark mentioned that our demands could change over time as more people got involved and incorporated more issues—what mattered right now, however, was figuring out what the core issues in the workplace were, what everyone saw as the problems with working there.

We had some ideas already for what they were, as this was a common discussion across any given shift. Among the issues we had included abysmal pay (the Pennsylvania minimum wage was, and currently is, $7.25—the highest paid employee there was about two dollars above that), inconsistent hours, barely any time in between shifts, a lack of notice on when schedules would be posted, broken equipment, a lack of proper training for new employees, not giving people deserved promotions, and favoritism.

All of this was great for planning, however we were interested in action. We were as inexperienced as we were idealistic and naive, and thought that taking some form of action might help us in the here and now. Mark, for what it’s worth, did agree that we could start to take small actions now. These actions were perhaps some of the most important, and would determine the course of the union entirely.

We had to determine who the core organizers were.


Remember the friend I talked to at the beginning of the unionization effort? We’ll call her Stacy, and she’s crucial for the picture going forward. See, Stacy comprises a crucial role in this effort. She was part of the core group of organizers—originally about five of us—who kickstarted everything.

That’s the thing with unions, you need to have an identifiable crew of core people to the union ready to kick things off and take on the bulk of the front-line activism. You’ll need people to be able to take charge of outreach, people who are more than ready to take on the bulk of the responsibilities that come with organizing a union.

There does, after all, have to be some kind of centralized organizing body when you’re setting up a union. It doesn’t have to be authoritative—you don’t need to set it up so that those involved are ‘leaders’ that call all the shots—rather, it just has to be enough so as to allow people the leeway they need to have some kind of structure in place to be able to take any sort of action. You’ll need people in charge who are capable of handling the bulk of problems that come with it. Placing the worries of this undertaking on those you’re just trying to passively get involved will guarantee you some kind of failure. People have enough to worry about—it’s difficult enough to participate in union activities, let alone with the threat of losing your job looming over your head.

There’s also the factor that, if you have a centralized, singular organizer, you’ll inevitably recreate the very hierarchies that you seek to destroy. You’ll just be changing the hands of who has the power over your wages and rights. The best case is that this leads to issues raised by workers disfavored by the ‘leader’ get ignored, and the worst case is that nothing even changes whatsoever.

This is why Stacy and the others were so important for the union—without them, we likely would’ve fallen apart within a week. They worked as consultation; people to toss ideas off of one another while giving a new perspective of the going-ons of the workplace. They were ready to plan out means of action and figure out how to approach new issues that plagued everyone equally in the workforce. They were essential for us to make it as far as we did.

The credit doesn’t just go to the core organizers though. Unions are, by definition, a group effort, and those who played a less involved role were often just as important to helping the union thrive as those who were active on the daily. 

For instance, a place like McDonald’s had people who worked a large deal of different shifts that each had separate responsibilities and concerns. We had significant people involved from each of these that were eager to inform us just how their unique issues weren’t prioritized by the managers that claimed to care about their interests. They offered insight into specific choices we should make for our workplace to make it better, or even to just take action to get what we needed, that those from other shifts often glossed over.

Or consider the people who had insight into how management works that others lacked. While those that were close friends—or even family—of management were often meant to be treated with caution, a few proved themselves to be especially trustworthy, and helped to inform us as to what to expect from the managers. They allowed us to know about what moves they were likely to make, and plan ahead for them.

One of these people is Mia. She was a younger employee who nonetheless had a knack for becoming a work-friend of everyone she met. The vast majority of the workforce was friends with her, and—even if they didn’t like her—found the shift to go by quickly with constant bouts of jokes, life stories, and numerous playlists that were, technically, against company policy to play. She was, of course, also very close friends with numerous members of management

Image: A McDonald’s in Seoul, South Korea. Geonhui Lee, 2021, Unsplash License

Her role in working as a de facto informant for the union was instrumental, and she would often help us with advice on who exactly to recruit next for the union, and had no shortage of ideas for what would be the best way to go forward. Much like the others there, she had fears about getting too involved, but she was willing to work with us and help us out.

Of course, having all of these contacts is well and good, but a question arises as to how you discuss union activities. It isn’t safe, after all, to talk about them on the workfloor—unless you want to risk exposing the whole operation. Fortunately, we had a convenient way to discuss organizing outside of place.


See, we had a chatroom for organizing. It was a small Facebook Messenger chat where we shared our union related thoughts and talked about how we wanted to go forward with everything. Mark was included in it, being a crucial element that advised us on exactly what to do. We shared ideas, topics, all sorts of thoughts related to what we wanted to do with the union and how we wanted to do it. We were all on each other’s side here, ready to ally against whatever might come up from management.

It’s important to have something like this for your organizing efforts, as communicating with dozens of people across countless distinct schedules and workdays is a difficult endeavor. You don’t necessarily need a Facebook chat for it to work, or even an online/mobile chat room—just something that’s easy to use outside of the workplace and is accessible to everyone. Facebook Messenger worked well for us because just about everyone at the job used it to talk to each other outside of work. Everyone had each other already added, and it often worked as a hub medium for people to talk.

That said, if you’re going to use something like a group chat or a chatroom, there are some important caveats that have to be kept in mind. For one, in most cases your messages are saved permanently to these services. Not all of them allow new members to access these archives, which does help, but the fact that most of them allow for an easy way to view the history means that anything you say could potentially be used against you.

A common phrase in cybersecurity circles is that you’re only as secure as your weakest link. This applies for unions as well—all it takes is one person to jeopardize the security of your operation, and so it’s important to try to weigh the risks. After all, if their messages get compromised by a manager, then that could spell game over for you. Or, even worse—what if someone snitches on the union and exposes everything?

There’s the potentiality of using services like Snapchat that autodelete messages, which could help. However, that also has the drawback of making it a question of how logs could get saved for past reference. There’s ways around it no doubt, but the fact is these things have to be considered. You have to plan for the worst and hope for the best here, or else things could fall apart.

This is something that we failed to do.


Our active efforts with unionizing were enough to inspire hope in all of us because of how well they seemed to be going. We followed the advice of Mark and talked to people gradually, approaching them one by one with the prospect of a union and gauging whether they’d be supportive.

If we could get enough people on board with a union, who were supportive of the idea, then we’d be set for getting one off the ground. Our main hope was whether people would be either actively supportive, or neutral but willing to not interfere or be a scab in some respect. The biggest fear was coming across people who were actively hostile to the union.

Mark mentioned that this fear, while it made sense, was not entirely reflective of how harmful people could be to the union. Often, it was those who weren’t extremely on board, and played a more neutral role that sabotaged union efforts in the past. This has typically been done out of fear—they had too much to lose and didn’t want to risk their only source of income. They then made themselves a target for managers who sought to turn them against unions, scapegoating unions for the issues facing the workforce.

The best strategy for preventing this was showing these people that unions could work. They were tentative to join any effort for better treatment in part because they didn’t know if it’d work. We had to show them by example that it’d be a good effort to join, and that by getting enough people on board, we could convince them to join us in efforts.

We were determined to do just that, first by talking about how many people were on board with a union. We kept a Google Sheets of everyone who could be approached to form a union, and tallied off whether they were on board with it completely, supportive but not completely involved, neutral, slightly hostile, or actively against unions entirely. 

This system worked well for not only documentation purposes, but also for persuasiveness. The more people we got on board, the more that we were able to use that growing number to convince others to join. The large number of people supportive of the union was enough to cause a decent bit of comfort with the idea of it, and led more people to be, at minimum, on board without effort.

From the start of it, we had every reason to be optimistic, and every reason to expect that things were going to go well. As long as we kept playing our cards right, we’d make it through—even Mark had high hopes for what was to come.


Then came the downfall.

We had just gotten a wide array of people on board across the workplace. We had recruited people from every single shift—morning, afternoon, evening, and overnight. There were more people we had talked to who were on board with the union than there were people who hadn’t been approached. At this point, the majority of the workforce was on board with the union—close to two thirds of everyone. We were getting excited, eager, and a bit overzealous with our efforts.

And we slipped up.

Image: A South African McDonald’s drive-through. Oluwakorede Enoch Adeyanju, 2018, Unsplash License.

See, we made the mistake of trusting someone—who I’ll refer to as Dan—with the knowledge of the union. He had seemed like a great candidate to get involved. He complained about the issues in the workplace, he agreed with us when we were quick to address the problems that came with McDonalds, he would often talk about how there needed to be changes in the place. A few of us knew him outside of work and hung out with him on a regular basis. He seemed like a great candidate to approach the union.

We took him aside one day, and brought it up to him. We explained to him what we were trying to do, how we were trying to do it, what we aimed to do as an end goal, and what it all meant for us in the long term. At the time, he seemed genuinely interested. So much so that we had agreed to add him to the core union organizer chat. We thought it was a great idea—he was involved a great deal with the inner workings of how the workplace functioned, so why not get him involved in our efforts? Why not get Dan on board with everything we were trying to do?

We added him to our chat, and all seemed well. He was chatting along with everyone, talking about strategies for going forward, discussing the best way things can keep going in a positive direction.

Then the next day hit.

It seemed like a regular day at work—I was walking into the workplace, planning out a few stragglers to talk to about the union who we didn’t get a chance to yet. My strategy was simple, I was going to go in, pull them aside, bring up the union—and, oh, Mia’s pulling me aside, what’s going on?

The union groupchat got leaked to management.

Everything we had discussed, everything we had planned, was all revealed to management, going up the ladder to not just the regular managers, but the regional, the district, and even the owners of the entire chain had all been made aware of what was going on with the union. Someone had revealed everything we were planning to them, someone had revealed all of the things we were talking about. But who could it be?

I asked Mia this, and she flat out revealed that it was Dan. Dan had, immediately after joining the groupchat, took extensive screenshots of everything and sent it all to upper management. He wasted no time in spreading this information around the workplace, making sure every manager knew of our project. All these months that we had spent keeping it a secret, keeping everything secure, it all was thrown out the window in an instant. With one fell swoop, Dan had caused a huge loss to us.

What had happened after was, for lack of a better term, a major shitshow.

There was chaos around the workplace that day. Everyone who was involved with the union was panicking, immediately deleting any trace of them being involved with the union in an effort to keep their jobs. Those that weren’t involved were now made tacitly aware of the union’s existence and had their skepticism about joining raise significantly. It was the talk of the day, and no one seemed to be able to focus on their work whatsoever.

Morale was dropped to an all-time low as everyone was panicking about whether they’d be able to maintain their jobs. No one approached management about it, of course—an implicit game was being played where people were going from “I didn’t know” to “I definitely didn’t hear anything, please don’t fire me.”

Those of the core organizers that were on the shift were immediately playing damage control for everything. We were trying to convince people to stay on board with the union, trying to convince each other that we were going to be okay, that this was just another blip on the radar that we should be able to overcome.

It was hard.

It was hard to convince ourselves that everything, as it stood, was fine, was going to be okay. We had no clue what was going to happen next—where our jobs stood, the extent to which management even understood everything that was discussed in that groupchat. All we could do was keep working and keep trucking on as if everything was normal, while inside we were panicking the entire time.

We could’ve, admittedly, handled this whole situation better. We had reached out to Mark about what to do, and he advised us to lay low with the unionizing activity for a while in order to regroup. We needed time to gather our thoughts and to figure out the best course of action for one another, to figure out what it was exactly that we wanted to do going forward.

Should we dissolve the union? Did we fail? Is it too late to give up? These were all questions that were running through our panicked minds. We should’ve approached this situation, in hindsight, with more calmness and clarity. The last thing anyone needs when something like this happens is to panic. We should’ve taken a step back, breathed, and evaluated the situation rationally.

Contacting Mark was a good move, and it’s thanks to him that we didn’t make any half-informed moves going forward. If we hadn’t talked to Mark, there’s a good chance we would’ve done something rash that day, such as exposing Dan as a snitch to the workforce or doing a strike without enough people on board to even participate. We instead took a step back and evaluated the situation rationally, and we had paused to figure out what our next best move should actually be.

Of course, at the time, we hadn’t had all the information on what was coming next. Had we, there would’ve been a much more thoroughly planned out response to everything, we could have started preparing retaliation, there could’ve been so much we did better. But the fact is, we didn’t, and we paid the price for it.


It was a few days after our union got exposed. Beyond occasional dirty looks from management, not much was different about our work-life. There was, however, more going on behind the scenes that we were made aware of through our various friends-of-friends throughout the scene. You see, we had an insider to management, someone who was able to filter us information right from the source without a game of telephone.

We had Josie.

Josie was an employee who recently was made into a manager, but she was still close to a lot of employees on the floor. We all knew her before she was made into a manager, and she was a popular person among those working at McDonald’s. She was especially close with Mia, and the two worked in tandem quite a bit when they were on the shift. They were like two peas in a pod, and since we had Mia on board with the union, Josie wasn’t far behind.

When the union got exposed, we had opted to finally tell Josie about the union. Originally, we had planned to wait till after we had more people on board. Getting a manager on board with a union was not a move to take lightly, and even though she was a friend to a lot of us, she was still management, and couldn’t be trusted. But, when the union got exposed, extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures, and we had no choice but to hope that she would be on our side throughout everything. We needed someone who could tell us what was going on at the management level, someone who would support us.

Fortunately, thanks to Mia, she was. She was tentatively on board with the union—she agreed we needed better working conditions, but was hesitant to outwardly take action and risk her job in the process. Nonetheless, she was willing to filter us information, because she didn’t want to see us lose our jobs.

Through her, we were able to learn that the owner of the McDonald’s chain was coming in to talk to a few employees about the union. She was going to be coming in and taking us each one by one to the side to talk about our issues with the workplace, what could be done better, and to talk about why we wanted to unionize.

We had prepared for this to an extreme. I had opted to record the meeting privately on my phone just in case anything illegal was tried—this was due to the advice of Mark—and I was ready for anything that might be coming my way. I rehearsed what I was going to say and how I was going to say it for days beforehand, preparing for whatever they might try to throw at me.


Then came the day of the meeting. It started off like a normal shift—I was going from cooking to restocking everything from the walk-in directly. The only thing that stood out was how quiet it was that day, abnormally so. You’d typically hear a lot of loud laughing and joking from employees in the front, with conversations echoing across the restaurant. That day, though, everyone was silent beyond what was necessary—with fear for their jobs being the main worry.

Then the owner came. She started calling people over one by one out to the lobby. She didn’t ask about the union directly—she asked about how satisfied they were with the job, what they wanted to see improved, whether they wanted to take action for it, and whether they planned on disrupting the workplace for it. Few people talked about what she was asking, so for a while I was left in the dark on it.

That was until I got called out.

The questions were very similar to what I heard from what the others were asked. There were some things brought up to me that I don’t believe were mentioned to the others—questions about the groupchat, the involvement of Mark, and the potentiality of illegal action.

A few of us had mentioned potentially stealing coupons, and discussed where the cameras were around the restaurant. These concerns were resolved quickly—I dismissed a lot of it as idle discussion, and mentioned that Mark had actually left the groupchat. I mentioned our discontentment, and our discussion of how things changed, alongside how every action we intended to make was within the realms of legality.

After that and a minor discussion about how she claimed to truly care for our rights, that was that. It was over, and I had to get back to work.


This wasn’t a total failure. We did get some goods from it. For one, no one got fired, which was a huge plus. All that happened was a few sporadic interviews and discussions with the higher ups, but there were too many of us on board to let us go or shorten our hours in any meaningful way.

Management was certainly looking for opportunities to do so. A few of us had our hours cut after this, but the cuts were only minor and enough that it could’ve been clocked up to oversight on behalf of management. Because of our sheer numbers and organization, management had little recourse but to accept our hours as-is.

They also fixed the broken grill that’s been sitting there for months on end. We had gotten one of our demands met! The organizing effort actually worked, at least a little bit. It was certainly an effort to placate us and make it seem like they cared about us. But it was an accomplishment nonetheless, because it certainly wouldn’t have happened if not for our organizing.

They also further pushed their new program, known as the ‘production leader’ program. It was essentially a way to identify candidates for prime workers across the job who seemed like good rally points for encouraging more efficient and timely work. In other words, it was a way to see who they liked the best.

Other than these precious few victories, management would yield on little if anything else. We were left to our own devices, with a fractured union and damaged morale. We got off lucky, we figured, and a lot of us wanted out of the organizing effort, citing concerns about losing their jobs and not wanting to risk another close call.

The union was left in shambles, and we had no clue how to pick up the pieces.


There wasn’t much any of us could do after that point—all we could do was sit and wait. Mark advised us to lay low and avoid taking any action from the union for a while, saying that the best move was to just avoid controversy until things died down.

It remained quiet after that point, but that calm didn’t last. This was all around early 2020, and COVID was just gearing up. It was popping up more and more on the news throughout this entire time, taking more prevalence. More calls to shutdown were widespread across the country.

It wasn’t long before it took charge of our sleepy little area. When lockdown started, there was a further tear across the union. We were already disenfranchised and exhausted from the act of Dan snitching, and now we had to try to organize with a pandemic?

It seemed like a nightmare.

We made some tentative plans for actions to protest the fact that McDonald’s of all places was still open during a national pandemic. We figured that, after all, it wasn’t an essential business and so shouldn’t have stayed open just because they served mediocre burgers. Those of us that were still on board with the union were for this idea, however the fear of the pandemic took us over.

None of us did anything substantive; instead we spent our time debating whether it was even worth it to go into work when a global pandemic was starting. Ultimately, I opted to cite COVID as the reason why I wouldn’t return to work, fearing what would happen if I caught it after staying in the workplace.

This was perhaps the final nail in the coffin, and a demonstration of another issue we had with our organizing efforts. A lot of the action and planning was placed squarely on my shoulders, when it should’ve been much more spread out. A union is a collective effort, not the passion project of just one person. It was our duty to make it more evenly spread out across the workforce, but we failed to do this, and the quality of the union fell as a result.

Our ability to do anything faltered when I called in, unable to work for the rest of my time. It’s a shame too, because we had come so far and made so much progress.


The union never recovered after that. No one seemed actually interested in continuing the efforts of the union after that loss—they were too scared of losing their jobs, and wanted to just fly low under the radar instead of taking another risky action. It was too much for some people to consider doing again, and so they decided to just give up.

After some months of waiting around as an on-the-books employee but not one on the grounds, I decided to try and get back into the job. They saw this as a chance to retaliate against me—giving me a singular shift. A Sunday, 8 am to 11 am shift—and that was it. Since I lived, at that point, a 45 minute drive away, I decided not to come in, and they used this as a chance to fire me and make me unhirable at any McDonald’s location from there on (even though they have a history of rehiring people who they’ve fired for supposedly similar infractions). My time organizing a McDonald’s union was gone from that point forward.

Others like Stacy or Mia kept their jobs for sometime, before either moving on to other pastures or sticking around for the sake of friends. They kept their jobs as normal, and were able to appease the higher ups by falling in line as ‘good workers’ who didn’t complain to any of them there about their jobs. From later discussions with them, however, not much changed at the workplace after the union collapse, and in fact a lot actually got worse—training got less involved, work more strenuous, and equipment turned back into failing. 

Dan didn’t get anything out of snitching on us, and instead ended up leaving the job shortly after the events transpired. Dan’s story shows what happens when you reveal the details of a union to your boss—you won’t get anything more than a pat on the back. He didn’t get any raise, he didn’t get any notoriety—as a matter of fact, he was regarded as one of the subpar employees. They didn’t view him in any brighter light, they didn’t see him as better for his actions. He sacrificed his fellow worker for the sake of recognition from the higher ups, and was left with nothing.

My time trying to organize the union was not something I regret, but it is something I wish I could’ve done differently. I approached it with far too much unearned confidence in both how I approached the situation and how much trust I put in a lot of the other employees. I made numerous crucial mistakes that only didn’t collapse the union sooner because of luck. Talking to people on the job about unionizing, approaching too many people with confidence that they’d be on board, being too trusting, not laying foundations for the union to exist without me, and not taking enough time to get to know people before trying to approach them with this topic. This all, and perhaps a lot more, are mistakes that contributed to the downfall of the union.

This isn’t to say that every action that I took was wrong—from my interactions with Mark and other union organizers since, there were certainly steps taken that were decent. Things like having an external planning chat service, identifying a core group of organizers, figuring out what the needs were, convincing enough people in the right order to get a good chunk on board, planning out responses at later dates, and even just going for a solidarity union model were all good choices.

The fact is though, a lot could’ve been done better, and it’s likely that a more seasoned union organizer wouldn’t have had the same pitfalls. Nonetheless, the union effort was a failure—but it’s one that can be learned from.

Fast food unions are doing extremely well across the country at this time. Burgerville created the first ever fast food contract a little bit back. Starbucks is famous for unionizing dozens of stores across a very short time period, and doing it across multiple different states. Jimmy John’s has a well publicized unionization effort that was also done with the IWW, and Chipotle workers are taking very recent strides in their approaches.

There’s a lot of hope here for union efforts across the country, and perhaps the world. If we’re going to continue the process of revitalizing unions to a force to be reckoned with and turn industries dominated by corporate greed into those that work for the workers, then we need to analyze the triumphs and tribulations that come with our approaches.

Let my experiences with trying to organize a fast food union be a learning experience for others trying to do the same thing—my mistakes don’t have to be repeated. They can instead be learned from, and used as a model for those trying to unionize their own environments, fast food or otherwise. Do the same for others as well—if you make mistakes in your organizing efforts, make them known to activists abroad so that way other issues can be found and identified. Share your victories as well, let people know how to do things right. This is something that we can only accomplish if we do it together. ~


  • Mira Lazine

    Mira Lazine is a writer from the eastern United States who covers every topic under the sun. You can find her over on Twitter @MiraLazine.

Strange Matters is a cooperative magazine of new and unconventional thinking in economics, politics, and culture.