Fast-food workers scent justice in fight with franchises
In a ruling that has given US unions a significant boost, the US National Labor Relations Board has ruled that McDonald’s (and other fast food outlets) are a “joint employer” of workers at its franchise restaurants.
An investigation found that McDonald’s, through its franchise arrangements “engages in sufficient control over its franchisees operations, beyond protection of the brand, to make it a putative joint employer with its franchisees, sharing liability for violations.”
A number of ‘alt.unions’ such as Fast Food Forward, have won the support of mainstream unions such as the Service International Employees Union, the United Steelworkers and food workers’ unions. The umbrella union body, the AFL-CIO, has opened its doors to these groups and their supporters.
Alt.unions have been organising demonstrations and strikes across the USA at fast-food outlets, demanding a $15 per hour minimum wage and the right to join unions free from intimidation by employers.
The complaints are a first step in what will be a very long battle and will be challenged at each stage by the fast food giants. McDonald’s have said that the ruling “strikes at the heart of the franchise system” and has also drawn condemnation from the Chamber of Commerce and the International Franchise Association as well as right wing US media organisations. As Kendall Fells, the chief organiser for the union-backed low-paid workers’ campaign Fight for 15 ($15 an hour) said:
“McDonald’s and its lobbyists have launched an aggressive campaign to defend the status quo in the fast-food industry. The industry has sounded the alarm and declared that the sky is falling.”
The NLRB in a statement said: “In the interest of conserving public and private resources and to avoid unnecessary delay, the NLRB has scheduled consolidated hearings in three Regional locations in the Northeast, Midwest and West to address violations that require remedial relief as soon as possible. Absent settlement, the initial litigation will commence on March 30, 2015, and will involve allegations of unlawful actions committed against employees at McDonald’s restaurants in the jurisdiction of six Regional Offices”.
Mary Joyce Carlson, a lawyer acting for Fight for 15 said that the ruling “makes it clear that the NLRB finds merit in the claim that McDonald’s is a joint employer because it exerts substantial power over franchisees.”
The NLRB says that McDonald’s and other franchisees violated rights of their workers and that it had found:
“Meritorious allegations of unlawful conduct committed by McDonald’s franchisees and/or their franchisor, McDonald’s USA, LLC, occurring in more than one, and often multiple, locations around the country include: discriminatory discipline, reductions in hours, discharges, and other coercive conduct directed at employees in response to union and protected concerted activity, including threats, surveillance, interrogations, promises of benefit, and overbroad restrictions on communicating with union representatives or with other employees about unions and the employees’ terms and conditions of employment.”
In total there were 291 complaints lodged with regional offices of the NLRB over the last two years, from New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Philadelphia, Detroit, Kansas Ciity, New Orleans, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Phoenix.
In response McDonald’s said it franchises own 90% of the company’s 14,000 US outlets and that franchises set wages and working conditions. They said that they offered ‘optional resources’ which “help entrepreneurs operate successful businesses. This relationship does not establish a joint employer relationship under the law and decades of case law support that principle,”