Legal Action Could Hold McDonald’s Accountable For Its Worker Standards

Walk into a McDonald’s in San Francisco, New York, or any small town, and you will see very similar layouts, uniforms, and menus. You know what to expect from any individual restaurant because McDonald’s exerts considerable control over each franchisee.

However, McDonald’s argues that it’s the franchisees, not the McDonald’s corporation, that are in control of the employment practices at each restaurant. McDonald’s argues that the workers at its restaurants are hired by the franchisees, and that allows McDonald’s to claim immunity when workers are subjected to illegal treatment.

That argument will be put to the test Monday when the National Labor Relations Board holds its first hearing against McDonald’s for violating federal labor law.

Legal experts and attorneys close to the case against McDonald’s held a press conference Wednesday to discuss the chain’s labor violations and further action. “McDonald’s is the boss, it shouldn’t be hiding behind the franchises” said David Dean of the law firm of James & Hoffman. McDonald’s is one of the wealthiest corporations in the world and a large portion of that wealth goes to executives at the top “while allowing McDonald’s to pretend it has no responsibility to the workers who produce that wealth,” Dean.

The general counsel of the NLRB ruled in July 2014 that McDonald’s is responsible for labor and wage violations perpetrated at the franchise level. Over the course of 20 months, fast food workers brought in claims of illegal practices. Richard F. Griffith Jr., general counsel to the board, said McDonald’s would be considered a joint employer and would hold some responsibility for 43 of the 181 claims brought forward by workers. Considering that around 90 percent of McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. are franchises, this ruling could have a very positive impact on the vast majority of McDonald’s workers.

The initial litigation will begin in New York with an opportunity for oral argument. Testimonial hearings will begin on May 11. Complaints will be addressed by region.

According to Dean, this fight began November 2012 when fast food workers held a one day strike for $15 an hour and the right to a union in New York City. Their collective action spread to 190 U.S. cities and cities abroad. Employees regularly face wage theft, hazardous working conditions, and pressure to work faster and smile more. Dean said, “McDonald workers know who’s in charge.”

This case is not being conducted to attack the franchise model, but when the franchiser crosses the line it’s important to establish their liability. “A joint employer is simply an employer.” said Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon LLP, “Calling yourself a franchiser doesn’t give you a free pass.”

For more information and to sign up for NLRB updates click here.

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