McDonald’s strike: workers strike and sue over sexual harassment

McDonald’s workers are making a lot of noise this week as the company prepares for its annual meeting Thursday with investors.

Dozens of women just filed gender discrimination complaints against the company, and cashiers and cooks are planning a nationwide strike Thursday to demand union rights and $15 hourly pay.

A group of 25 women in 20 cities said Tuesday that they had just filed sexual harassment complaints against McDonald’s with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Most are new cases that must first go through an EEOC investigation, but a handful involve complaints women filed with the agency last year, which they are now taking to court. They say the company has done nothing to keep women safe while working at its franchise and corporate-owned restaurants.

“Sexual harassment is not something you should have to endure no matter how desperately you need a job,” Maribel Hoyos, who recently quit her job at a McDonald’s restaurant in Tucson, Arizona, told reporters Tuesday. Hoyos said she and her teenage daughter, who both worked at the same restaurant, were punished for complaining about a manager who repeatedly groped them and made unwanted sexual advances. “I was passed over for a promotion, my work hours were cut and I was cut out of managers’ training program. Then we fell behind on our rent.”

Hoyos and her daughter are just two of the women launching cases against McDonald’s, with support from the Fight for $15 labor movement, the ACLU, and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. As part of the group’s demands, they want McDonald’s franchises to face serious consequences if managers violate the company’s sexual harassment policies.

McDonald’s employees around the country are also planning to strike in 13 cities on Thursday, but for another reason. They want a $15 minimum wage and union rights for all restaurant employees at the chain. Democratic presidential candidates Julián Castro, Corey Booker, and Jay Inslee are planning to picket with them in three different cities.

Corporate lawyers have argued that the company is not responsible (or liable) for working conditions at the 14,000-plus, independently owned McDonald’s franchises across the country. Whether or not they share responsibility has yet to be resolved in the courts.

As of publication time, a spokesperson for McDonald’s hadn’t responded to questions from Vox about workers’ concerns.

The employee pressure campaign comes at a time of widespread labor unrest across the US. In recent years, McDonald’s workers have watched dozens of companies lift hourly pay to $15 an hour and swiftly punish sexual offenders in response to public outrage. But not much has changed at individual franchises and corporate-owned restaurants, they say, even though they’ve been protesting and striking for more than five years. They want to remind company executives that workers won’t back off until things change.

Women want McDonald’s to take sexual harassment seriously

Long before the #MeToo movement became a force to contend with, women who work at McDonald’s have been complaining about rampant sexual harassment at the fast-food chain.

Women say they are fed up with supervisors who grope them, ask for sex, and expose themselves on the job. When they report the behavior, managers ignore them, they say, or even punish them. In 2015, women who work at McDonald’s went on strike in Chicago to express their frustration. In September, they went on strike again, this time in 10 cities.

“For three years, we’ve been speaking out, filing charges, and even going on strike to get McDonald’s to confront its sexual harassment problem,” Tanya Harrell, a McDonald’s worker from Louisiana, said in a statement. “We cannot wait any longer for action. McDonald’s, it’s time to sit down with the workers who help make your $6 billion in profits possible so, together, we can stamp out harassment once and for all.”

In the latest round of complaints, workers as young as 16 are accusing supervisors of serious misconduct, including attempted rape, indecent exposure, groping, and sexual offers. The women said they were ignored, mocked, or punished when they reported it. Some had their hours cut back and others were fired.

Before the strike in September, a spokesperson for McDonald’s told the AP that the company had several policies and training programs in place to help franchises prevent harassment, and that they’ve hired experts to help “evolve” those procedures.

On Monday, in response to recent complaints, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said that the company began offering sexual harassment prevention training to franchise owners and general managers in the fall, and about 90 percent of them have gone through it, according to the Chicago Tribune. He also said the company is launching an anonymous hotline to report complaints this summer and will start offering the harassment training to non-managers in August.

The company, based in Chicago, has been slow to get involved because it doesn’t consider franchise workers company employees.

McDonald’s is locked in a labor dispute over whether the fast-food chain is considered a “joint employer,” and is therefore partly liable for labor violations committed by individual franchises. The company argues that it is not a joint employer, so it cannot be held legally accountable for sexual harassment and other illegal workplace behavior at any of its independently owned restaurants. Workers disagree. They say the company has too much control over franchise restaurants and workers to make that claim.

That’s also why McDonald’s won’t get involved in setting hourly pay rates for restaurant workers, and won’t bargain with them through a labor union, which is the reason workers are planning to strike Thursday.

McDonald’s workers want a voice in corporate decision-making

McDonald’s employees have been instrumental in pushing states (and Congress) to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

As part of the Fight for $15 movement that launched in 2012, fast-food workers have organized strikes and rallies all across the country. They saw little success until 2016, when California became the first state to hike hourly wages to $15, followed by Massachusetts, New York, Washington, DC, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. Last week, Connecticut became the seventh state to pass a bill raising minimum pay to $15 an hour.

More than 30 percent of US workers now live in states that are raising pay to $15 an hour, according to the National Employment Law Project. But McDonald’s workers have had more success changing state laws than getting the company to take action.

The most McDonald’s has done is announce, in March, that the company will no longer lobby against minimum wage hikes at the state and federal level.

McDonald’s workers also want the right to unionize and bargain collectively with the company. But that would require McDonald’s (or the courts) to view the company as a joint employer.

On Thursday, workers are planning to strike for union rights in 13 cities, the same day that company executives will meet with shareholders. Workers have enlisted the support of presidential candidates; in addition to those joining the picket line, Sen. Bernie Sanders will host a video town hall with McDonald’s employees in Dallas, where the shareholders’ meeting will take place.

McDonald’s workers are thus sending a message not only to company executives, but to presidential contenders. They expect Democrats with an eye on the White House to work hard for their vote.

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