Democrat or Republican, believer or atheist, cat or dog person, most West Virginians agree Tudor’s Biscuit World is just as much a part of this state’s identity and culture as the Capitol dome, Mountain Stage or the motto “Mountaineers are always free.”
So, while attempts to unionize for better wages and benefits at some Tudor’s restaurants in West Virginia might seem a paltry affair, it could prove a bellwether for labor relations in West Virginia going forward.
If you think that sounds crazy, recall that Tudor’s has been at the center of policy making in this state before.
A few years ago, when West Virginia was smarting from its label as the most obese and unhealthy state in the country (with Huntington singled out as the most overweight city in the U.S.), the Legislature attempted to pass a bill that would require fast food restaurants to list calorie counts beside the items on their menus.
Just the thought of what that might do to business for Tudor’s resulted in a straight-out — albeit low-stakes — bribe, as legislators arrived to their respective chambers one morning to find a complimentary breakfast from the restaurant for each of them. The bill died. (Shortly thereafter, calorie counts were added to fast food menus, but that was a result of federal action.)
Now, as the state and national economy attempt to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, finding workers for low-wage jobs has proved difficult. Some Tudor’s employees, working in understaffed restaurants, want to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which also represents Kroger employees.
At first glance, this might look like a bad move. Ever since Republicans took control of the Legislature six years ago, they’ve enacted more than a few laws that undermine what power labor unions still have. Yet, some Republicans in the Legislature have formed a Labor Caucus, looking to undo some of those measures, realizing they haven’t produced any economic growth. While that upcoming battle might not impact food service workers, it shows the atmosphere in the state is at least shifting somewhat.
Workers like those at Tudor’s also find themselves with a rare upper hand. The restaurant chain could threaten to fire everyone for even thinking about forming a union, but they’re already understaffed. Just who are they going to get to replace those workers without offering higher pay and better benefits?
There’s also the customer to consider. The host of the Tudor’s faithful have probably noticed longer drive-thru lines and wait times because of fewer staff at some restaurants. If better pay and benefits get staffing levels back up to par, the customer might be all for it, even if it resulted in a slight price hike on their favorite biscuit. They might just as well think a 50-cent price hike on a Mary B or Ron is outlandish. They’d probably still buy it, though, after a bit of muttering while fishing through their wallets.
This could be a lot of hullaballoo that comes to nothing, but don’t be surprised if it actually leads to a significant change. Never underestimate the power of Tudor’s as it pertains to any issue in West Virginia.