MINNEAPOLIS – They’re back, and they’re expensive.

Protests outside fast food restaurants flared up in cities around the country Thursday, organized by groups with plenty of ties to prominent labor unions. The front groups organizing the protests — with names like Citizens Action of New York and Fast Food Workers United — use a mix of Occupy Wall Street populism and Big Labor tactics to draw attention to their cause.

But the real goal seems to be drawing more members into the union, rather than generating better working conditions for America’s legions of burger-flippers.

The Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, is one of the biggest backers of the effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and to unionize fast food workers. The union is heavily invested in the effort, having spent more than $38 million, directly and indirectly, in 2013 alone.

“Economics have driven this campaign since its inception more than two years ago. The SEIU has dumped millions of dollars into quasi-union worker centers to create the mirage of an organic movement,” said Ryan Williams of Worker Center Watch, a nonprofit that tracks union spending and opposes efforts to raise the minimum wage.

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