Why McDonald's workers in more than 30 cities plan to protest

McDonald's workers in more than 30 cities plan to protest Thursday afternoon over 15 sexual harassment complaints filed in the past month.

M. Spencer Green/AP
McDonald's workers and supporters rally outside a McDonald's on April 15, 2015, in Chicago.

In more than 30 US cities on Thursday afternoon, McDonald’s customers may see some workers taking their orders wearing signs that read “McDonald’s, Hands Off My Buns” or “McDonald’s, Put Some Respect in My Check.”

Their protest, according to The Guardian, is part of a bigger movement organized by the Fight for $15 movement that aims to draw attention to 15 sexual harassment complaints filed in the past month by employees working for several McDonald’s franchisees across the country.

"As the country's second-largest employer, McDonald's has a responsibility to set standards in both the fast-food industry and the economy overall," Kendall Fells, organizing director for Fight for $15, said in a statement as reported by Reuters.

Sexual harassment at fast food restaurants is alarmingly common, as a recent survey from Hart Research Association shows, four in 10 women working in fast food restaurants have been subjected to sexual harassment on the job. Oftentimes speaking out leads to negative relations with employers, so they choose to put up with it to keep their jobs.

McDonald's is no stranger to sexual harassment lawsuits either: According to the Center for Investigative Reporting analysis, McDonald’s restaurants have a history of receiving sexual harassment lawsuits by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Only 15 other US companies and franchise brands have been sued as many times for this reason from 1998 to 2014.

For example, in 2012, Missoula Mac, owner and franchisee of 25 McDonald’s restaurants paid $1 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit in Wisconsin. Several female workers, most of them teenagers, complained that male some male employees forcibly kissed and touched them. In 2010, McDonald’s itself paid $50,000 to settle another lawsuit in New Jersey where a male teenage worker complained that the store manager touched, spanked, and hugged him.

“There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in McDonald’s restaurants or in any workplace,” spokeswoman Terri Hickey told Bloomberg News, stating they will be looking into the 15 cases. “We take any concerns seriously.”

The 15 complaints filed by the Fight for $15 movement in the past month include workers from eight states, including California, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. All the complaints named McDonald as the joint employer, although most of it occurred in franchises where the corporate McDonald does not own. But worker activists are pushing for the corporation to take responsibility of its franchises’ labor problems.

Bloomberg cites instances of female McDonald's workers who complained abut unwanted advances from supervisors found that they were ignored, or, in once instance, had her work hours cut.

“I really needed that job and the money, and I considered remaining silent,” Cycei Monae, one of the former employees in the Michigan who filed a complaint said in statement, according to The Center for Investigative Reporting. “But I believed McDonald’s had my back and would be horrified by the way I was treated. I was wrong.”

Since 2012, the Fight for $15 movement have been fighting to unionize fast-food workers and putting pressure on companies such as McDonald’s to provide better pay and working conditions for its workers.

“I think it’s worth noting here that if these workers had a union that the process and the outcome would be a lot different,” Kendall Fells, organizing director at Fight for $15, told The Guardian. 

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