McDonald's Protest

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–The National Labor Relations Board’s ruling last week on McDonald’s and its franchises holds huge potential for female workers who currently make up the majority of the country’s fast food workforce.

But Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center, cautions the decision could take a while before it directly affects workers. “It’s only the first step in a long legal process,” Entmacher said in a phone interview.

In the ruling, the National Labor Relations Board said McDonald’s, the world’s largest hamburger chain based in Oak Brook, Ill., should be considered liable for all its franchises’ conditions and should be considered as an employer alongside individual store managers. The board is a federal agency that represents employees’ rights to organize and unionize.

If administrative judges and courts adjudicate the cases related to the board’s ruling, McDonald’s employees will be able to bargain together and, if desired, unionize because they will be considered working for one company–McDonald’s the franchiser.

As a unified entity under the large corporate employer, employees from any franchise would be able to file complaints regarding working conditions and wages bargains against the company itself, said Entmacher.

But that’s not yet the case.

Entmacher said the decision simply allowed the employee complaints about the corporation McDonald’s to legally move forward, so long as the plaintiffs demonstrate that the corporation does indeed control its franchisees’ working conditions.

Minimal Benefits

Entmacher is the lead author of research released by the center last week that finds women are two-thirds of people employed in low-wage jobs. These occupations, such as fast food and restaurant jobs, usually pay employees $10.10 per hour or less. The study, “Underpaid and Overloaded: Women in Low-Wage Jobs,” says such jobs rarely offer “basic benefits” like paid sick leave and health care.

The center’s study emphasizes that women of color make up nearly 50 percent of women who hold low-wage jobs, a disproportionate share. The report also finds women of color suffer most frequently from discrimination and harassment at work.

In the past year, McDonald’s employees and the Service Employees’ International Union have been stepping up its pressure on McDonald’s. Participants in recent strikes and pickets have been demanding $15 an hour, criticizing the multi-billion dollar company for paying wages that keep workers living below the poverty line and eligible for public assistance. Franchise operators have also begun speaking out about the corporation’s practices.

The decision will enable employees and customers to hold McDonald’s, which raked in revenue of over $28 billion in 2013, responsible for such things as unlivable wages, bad working conditions and poor health benefits.

As well as bargaining for better conditions, the ruling also paves the way for fast food workers to unionize, reported the Los Angeles Times, but that will depend on the employees’ stamina.

The push by fast food workers for better wages and conditions is assisted by grassroots initiatives in localities around the United States that are raising the minimum wage and passing laws to guarantee worker benefits, such as guaranteed paid sick days. McDonald’s workers in Seattle, for instance, now earn more because the city in June raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

‘Groundbreaking’ Decision

Saru Jayaraman is co-director of the New York-based ROC United, an advocate for tipped workers’ working conditions and rights. She says the decision is groundbreaking and may ripple far beyond McDonald’s.

In a recent phone interview, Jayaraman said the board’s decision could support any campaign to improve workplace conditions at any large franchise chain. “The companies can no longer say ‘we can’t do that’,” said Jayaramn, who mentioned Applebee’s, with headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., as another franchised company that might be affected.

Jayaraman said major corporations rely on an affiliate, or franchise, model to run their business, thereby removing top managers and owners from any sort of liability in regards to working conditions and rights.

The labor board ruling challenges that system and can hold the corporation “responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants,” the New York Times reported.

Heather Smedstad, a senior vice president at McDonald’s, argues that the labor board ruling challenges established law, the New York Times reported. The National Restaurant Association, a D.C.-based lobbying firm opposed to raising the minimum wages and paying sick leave for restaurant employees, said on its website that the decision “erodes the proven franchisor/franchisee relationship, and jeopardizes the success of 90 percent of America’s restaurants.”

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