May 21 2014: McDonalds workers & allies marched on the McDonalds HQ in Oak Brook IL There were over 100 arrests. Photo: Bob Simpson
McDonald’s accused of firing pro-union workers
Once again the fast-food restaurant giant is under investigation by the USA’s National Labour Relations Board for allegedly firing workers for pro-union activity.
Through a Freedom of Information Act, Bloomberg News secured documents which purport to show that McDonald’s fired nine New York area workers between November 2012 and April 2014 for joining unions and helping organise workers. Workers also faced suspension and reduced working hours for being involved in forming unions, according to the worker group, known as the ‘Fast Food Workers Committee’.
But this new case has other ramifications for McDonald’s as it does not just target the McDonald’s franchise owners; the target is now the McDonald’s corporation. McDonald’s has previously blamed the franchisees for anti union activity. 90% of McDonald’s restaurants are independently managed by franchisees who in turn hand over a portion of their sales to the McDonald’s corporation.
Mary Kay Henry, the head of Service Employees International Union, said:
“The franchisee relationship is a smokescreen so corporations don’t have to take responsibility for paying more. Every detail of food preparation is centralized. With that level of coordination, workers believe that corporations could figure out how to pay them more.”
If the US’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) agrees with the workers who have been sacked or faced penalties parent companies could be held accountable for what goes on in their restaurants. But first the NLRB will determine whether or not McDonald’s qualifies as a ‘joint employer’ with the franchise owners, meaning McDonald’s could be responsible for the wage and firing practices of its franchisees.
The case comes at a time when McDonald’s and other fast-food companies are being roundly criticised for low wages, and an anti-union stance. In May this year fast food workers in the USA and other countries protested against fast food giants including a mass demonstration outside of the McDonald’s ‘corporate campus’ in Oak Brook, Illinois, at which Mary Kay Henry and over 100 others were arrested for blocking the road.