McDonald’s union? US employees to strike Tuesday in newest labor motion

McDonald’s workers in several cities are planning a one-day walk out next Tuesday to protest what they say is continued sexual harassment of employees, and to call for the workforce to unionize to help address the problem.    

Employees in at least ten cities including Tampa, Chicago and St. Louis intend to strike in response to the alleged rape of a 14-year-old McDonald’s worker in Pittsburgh by her manager, and other allegations of harassment at the fast food giant’s restaurants, according to Fight for $15 and a Union, a group of fast-food and other low-wage workers that’s organizing the walkout.  

The action would be the latest in a series of strikes taking place across the country as workers use leverage gained from a nationwide labor shortage to demand higher pay, better benefits and stronger workplace protections.

“I do believe that we’re in a moment where workers are standing up more for their rights,” says Jamelia Fairley, a McDonald’s employee in Sanford, Florida, who is a main plaintiff in a class action lawsuit alleging McDonald’s has created a hostile work environment that allows sexual harassment and violates the Civil Rights Act. “I have met others who have experienced sexual harassment… We want  a union to prevent it from happening.”

‘A Stunning Reluctance’

McDonald’s has faced numerous complaints about sexual harassment as well as racism in recent years, and workers in Fight for $15 and a Union have staged four previous walkouts. 

In April, McDonald’s announced new global guidelines focused on several areas, including the prevention of harassment, discrimination, retaliation and job site violence. Starting in January of next year, restaurants will be evaluated based on whether they conduct required training on those issues, set up procedures for workers to make complaints, and other measures. 

“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,” McDonald’s U.S. said in a statement sent to USA TODAY. “We know more work is needed to further our workplace ambitions, which is why all 40,000 McDonald’s restaurants will be assessed and accountable to global brand standards.”

But workers and labor advocates say they’ve seen little progress so far, and they believe a union can help employees gain better protections from harassment and other workplace challenges. 

“McDonald’s has a stunning reluctance to want to talk to its own workers, the survivors of sexual harassment, about what they can do to make this right,” says Eve Cervantez, who has represented several employees who’ve made sexual harassment claims against McDonald’s and its franchisees. 

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She added that McDonald’s announcements of new standards to stop sexual harassment and discrimination “seem more like a PR strategy,” and that her clients are asking for the company to work with survivors and experts to create more effective training, policies and measures of accountability.  .” 

In September, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit alleging that AMTCR, a McDonald’s franchisee, did not respond sufficiently to numerous complaints that mostly teenage workers were being sexually harassed at many of the roughly 22 McDonald’s restaurants it runs in Nevada, California and Arizona.

That same month, a McDonald’s employee filed suit alleging that a manager raped her in a Pittsburgh restaurant in February when she was 14 years old.

“They advertise everywhere this is your first best job and attract these…mostly young women,”  says Alan Perer, the teenager’s attorney, who says the manager was a previously convicted sex offender who has since been arrested and fired for the attack on his client. “To place them in harm’s way and not protect them by not hiring properly and not overseeing what’s going on is just shocking.”

Walkouts for wages, better working conditions

With many employers saying they are struggling to fill empty positions, and a record-breaking 4.3 million Americans quitting their jobs in August, thousands of workers across the U.S. are going on strike to call for better pay and working conditions. 

Over 10,000 employees of Deere & Co. walked off the job this month, the first strike of the farm equipment manufacturer in 35 years. Roughly 1,400 employees of the Kellogg Company’s U.S. cereal plants are on strike over a range of issues, including vacation pay and retirement benefits.

And more than 1,500 Kaiser-Permanente pharmacists, speech-language pathologists and other therapists in Hawaii and California are scheduled to vote next week on whether to give their union authorization to call a strike if negotiations break down over issues like wages and staffing. 

Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones

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