McDonalds restaurant workers in 12 U.S. cities walked off the job Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 to protest what they say is a continuing problem of sexual harassment and violence in one of America’s largest, most iconic fast-food restaurant chains.
Organizers from the labor group Fight for $15 say several hundred workers were expected to participate in Chicago, Miami and other cities.
According to Fight for $15, workers have filed more than 50 complaints and lawsuits alleging harassment at corporate-owned and franchise McDonald’s outlets since 2016. Dozens of those cases involve workers as young as 16 who accused supervisors of misconduct including attempted rape, indecent exposure, groping, and sexual offers.
Victims claim the fast-food chain does little to tackle the problem at either franchise-run restaurants or corporate-owned outlets.
“McDonald’s is one of the world’s most recognized brands, and with restaurants in 119 countries, its iconic golden arches have spread to every corner of the globe,” said Lisa McCormick, a progressive Democrat who noted that the company is a global tax dodger, structured to avoid paying taxes, both in the U.S. and around the world, while keeping workers in poverty and addicted to government support. “People should not be surprised that such an amoral corporation tolerates rampant sexual abuse.”
In a 2020 survey of nearly 800 female workers at McDonald’s restaurants and franchises, three-quarters said they were harassed at work. In the same survey, which was commissioned by unions, 71% said that they suffered consequences for reporting the behavior.
Rather than addressing the problem, a company spokesperson disputed the findings, said the sample size was too small, and claimed that they were “not consistent with what we are seeing in McDonald’s restaurants.”
Staff members who have spoken out have faced retaliation, such as having their hours cut or being fired.
After a review of workplace safety earlier this year, McDonald’s said it will require all workers, at both corporate and franchise-owned stores, to undergo anti-harassment training from next January.
However, campaigners say the announcement is “short on specifics”, including what might happen to those who fail to follow the rules.
In a statement, McDonald’s said it was committed to “thoroughly investigating” allegations at its corporate-owned restaurants, and that it expected its franchisees to “uphold a similar standard”.
“Every single person working at a McDonald’s restaurant deserves to feel safe and respected when they come to work, and sexual harassment and assault have no place in any McDonald’s restaurant,” it said.
“We know more work is needed to further our workplace ambitions, which is why all 40,000 McDonald’s restaurants [worldwide] will be assessed and accountable to global brand standards. “These standards prioritize action in multiple areas, including prevention of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.”
On the eve of McDonald’s 2020 annual meeting, an international group of labor unions filed a complaint with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that details alleged failures by the fast-food giant’s global management to address “rampant” sexual harassment at restaurants in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, France, the U.K. and other countries.
The complaint—which contains really quite graphic and distressing cases of abusive treatment of workers in the U.S., Brazil, Britain, France, and other countries—was filed by the International Union of Foodworkers; the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions; União Geral dos Trabalhadores from Brazil; and the Service Employees International Union on behald of workers in the United States and Canada.
Collectively, these agencies reportedly represent tens of millions of workers.
“I’m going on strike because, despite years of protests, McDonald’s still refuses to take responsibility for the countless women and teenagers who face harassment on the job at its stores across the globe,” said Jamelia Fairley, who is employed at a McDonald’s in Sanford, Florida.
“First he was like, ‘You have nice hair,’ started touching my hair,” said Jamelia Fairley. “Then he was like, physical; then he actually started grabbing my butt. No matter what McDonald’s says, not much has changed for workers like me.”
Young women from across the country have shared remarkably similar accounts of workplace abuse and harassment at McDonald’s locations.
“He would make comments on my body, and other workers’ bodies, saying, like, ‘I would have sex with you, I wouldn’t have sex with her,'” said Emily Anibal.
Kat Barber said, “Any woman that he could get his hands on or be near, he was taking advantage of that moment.”
Kimberly Lawson said, “It kind of made me feel isolated. I thought I was the only one this is happening to right now, you know what I’m saying? So, I just felt, like, completely alone.”
Fairley, Barber, Lawson, and Anibal have all either filed discrimination charges or filed suit against McDonald’s corporate restaurants or their independently-owned franchises. Each tells a story of persistent and unwanted harassment from male co-workers.
Gillian Thomas, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “It is hard to believe that, in this day and age, that it’s still happening this egregiously, this out in the open.”
Thomas said hundreds of female employees have been subjected to sexual harassment at McDonald’s restaurants, as described in as many as 100 lawsuits and charges of discrimination.
“The other piece that’s especially shocking at McDonald’s, which, of course, bills itself as America’s best first job, is how young the victims are – 15, 16, 17 years old,” said Thomas, who noted that “the food service industry generally is one of the worst for sexual harassment claims.”
Workers have been winning increases in the minimum wage across the country but for too many Americans, $15 per hour is still years away or not even on the radar at the state level. New Jersey’s poorest workers can be paid just $4.13 per hour under legislation enacted by Governor Phil Murphy in February 2019.
The federal minimum wage has not risen from $7.25 since 2009.
“McDonald’s still isn’t taking responsibility,” says Lacrecha Osterman, a 46-year-old full-time McDonald’s Crew Trainer supporting her four children in public housing. “They aren’t taking responsibility for paying their employees poverty wages. They don’t take responsibility when workers are sexually harassed in their stores. And they sure don’t take responsibility for their systemic efforts to bust up the work we do to organize. That’s why we’re on strike today.”
“I know we’re not alone, other corporations are doing the same thing in security and in healthcare. That is why we have to continue to come together in unions,” Osterman said. “These injustices are what hold us back. Black, White, and Brown working people all do better when we join together to have a say in what happens on the job and in our communities.”
The Fight for $15 began in 2012 when two hundred fast-food workers walked off the job to demand $15 per hour and union rights in New York City, and today, it has become a global movement with chapters in over 300 cities on six continents made up of fast-food workers, home health aides, child care teachers, airport workers, adjunct professors, retail employees, and underpaid workers in every occupation.
Labor advocates led by groups such as Fight for $15 have pushed for wage hikes nationwide as they argue pay has not kept pace with the cost of living.
The effort has reignited a debate about whether minimum wage increases will help low-wage employees keep up or hurt them and the businesses who employ them, who in some cases say they have to reduce their staff or the hours they work.
“When fast-food workers first started walking off the job (in 2012), nobody gave us a shot,” said St. Louis McDonald’s worker Wanda Rogers. “But by going on strike, speaking out, and acting like a union, we’ve turned a $15 minimum wage from laughable to reality.”