Federal Complaint Charges McDonald’s as Joint Employer

Pressure Campaign Backed by Fast-Food Giant Fails to Hide Obvious Fact that McDonald’s Is The Boss

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Labor Board says McDonald’s broke the law; Company can’t hide behind franchisees any longer

New York—Despite an aggressive pressure campaign by McDonald’s corporate lobbyists, the federal government on Friday charged that the company is indeed an employer that exerts substantial power over its employees’ working conditions.

In a complaint, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel found that the company wields such extensive influence over the business operations of its franchisees that individual franchise operators have little autonomy in setting or controlling workplace conditions. McDonald’s, for all intents and purposes, is the boss, the complaint concludes.

“McDonald’s and its corporate lobbyists continue to claim that the company has no responsibility for workers at its restaurants, but today’s complaint underscores the obvious fact that McDonald’s is the boss,” said Micah Wissinger, an attorney at Levy Ratner who brought the case on behalf of McDonald’s workers in New York City. “The complaint validates what workers have been saying over and over again—that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.”

For nearly two years, McDonald’s and other fast-food workers across the country have been joining together and going on strike, calling for $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation. But time and time again, the company and other industry players have tried to sidestep workers’ calls, inventing a make-believe world in which responsibility for wages and working conditions falls squarely on the shoulder of franchisees.

“Rather than continue to deny the obvious, McDonald’s should own up to its responsibility for its workers and pay us enough so we can support our families,” said Richard Eiker, who has worked for the same Kansas City McDonald’s franchisee for 18 years. “Instead, the company is only fighting to keep the current system in place where wages are stuck at the bottom even as profits grow.”

In November, the Wall Street Journal reported that McDonald’s plans to launch a “far-reaching campaign” to fight the Board’s finding that the company is a joint employer, including a comprehensive lobbying effort targeting local, state, and federal elected officials and administrative bodies.

“It’s time McDonald’s put its powers to work to do something about the fact that its workers are living in poverty, instead of spending tens of millions on corporate lobbyists to defend a status quo that forces its workers to rely on food stamps to get by,” said Kendall Fells, organizing director of Fast Food Forward.

“The federal government’s complaint makes clear that fast-food companies like McDonald’s can’t have it both ways — it can’t exercise such pervasive control over a workplace and effectively dictate wages and working conditions while still saying that it’s not the employer,” said Catherine Fisk, Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. “The NLRB general counsel’s complaint reflects the general counsel’s determination that evidence shows that McDonald’s exercises so much control over the operation of individual franchise restaurants that it is a joint employer with the franchise operator.”

The complaint is the latest challenge to the fast-food industry’s low-wage business model, in which franchisors reap rewards of a profitable industry, while forcing franchisees to shoulder all the risk. In March, McDonald’s workers in three states filed class-action lawsuits against the company, alleging widespread wage theft. The New York Times wrote that the suits, “argue that both the corporate parent and the independently owned franchises where many of the plaintiffs work are jointly responsible for illegal pay practices carried out by the franchises…That strikes at the heart of the low-wage fast-food business model.”

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Founded in November of 2012, the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago is a union of fast food and retail workers. The workers’ Fight for 15 campaign seeks a $15 an hour wage, more work hours, and the right to form a union without retaliation. The Fight for 15 campaign is supported by an ever-expanding coalition of community, labor and faith-based groups including: Action Now; Albany Park Neighborhood Council; Arise Chicago; Brighton Park Neighborhood Council; Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; Chicago Jobs with Justice; Chicago Teachers Union; Grassroots Collaborative; Illinois Hunger Coalition; Jane Addams Senior Caucus; ONE Northside; Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP); SEIU Local 1; SEIU Local 73; SEIU Healthcare Illinois;  Indiana, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation;  United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Western Region; and Workers United.

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