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McDonald’s Workers Are Striking Today Over Sexual Harassment

Female employees in 10 cities are staging walkouts to protest how the company handles harassment complaints

Activists Demonstrate For Raising The Minimum Wage To 15 Dollars Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The women of McDonald’s are fed up: Female employees of the fast-food giant are staging #MeToo walkouts in 10 U.S. cities today to protest how the company handles sexual harassment.

Workers at some, though not all, McDonald’s locations in Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, LA, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, San Francisco, and Durham, North Carolina are planning to walk out during today’s lunch rush. It’s said to be the first-ever nationwide walkout in protest of sexual harassment — and one that’s seemingly long overdue, with a staggering 90 percent of women in the food industry reporting they’ve been sexually harassed at work, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Center.

Today’s protest is being organized in conjunction with the Fight for $15 labor advocacy group, and follows a sexual harassment complaint against McDonald’s that was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission back in May with the help of Fight for $15 and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Filed on behalf of 10 female workers of color from eight different cities, the filing alleges widespread instances of women being groped, propositioned for sex, and even sexually assaulted by co-workers or superiors. The women say that when they reported the incidents to their managers, they were rebuffed, retaliated against, and in some cases, fired.

“It’s sad that we have to walk off the job in order to be treated with respect at McDonald’s, but we’re not going to stay quiet while the company ignores the harassment we’re facing,” Tanya Harrell, a McDonald’s worker from New Orleans who is striking today, said in a Fight for $15 press release. Harrell says she was verbally harassed and groped by a co-worker, and was made fun of by her manager after reporting it.

“We are hoping that at the end of this strike, McDonald’s upholds and actually enforces its zero-tolerance policy with regard to sexual harassment,” says Fight for $15 lawyer Mary Joyce Carlson. “McDonald’s should conduct mandatory trainings on sexual harassment for managers and employees. They should create a safe and effective method for receiving — and responding to — complaints from employees who report sexual harassment. We want McDonald’s corporate and franchisee reps to participate on a committee with its women workers and leaders of major national women’s groups to chart a path forward to end sexual harassment at the company.”

The striking workers are demanding McDonald’s form an anti-sexual harassment committee, and fortify — and enforce — its existing “zero-tolerance” sexual harassment policy. They’re also asking the company hold mandatory sexual harassment training for both managers and employees, and to implement a better system for receiving and responding to harassment complaints.

And protesters aren’t just taking to the streets today — they’re also taking to the skies: A national women’s advocacy group called UltraViolet has hired a plane to fly over McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Chicago this afternoon during the walkout, pulling a banner that reads, “MCDONALDS: STOP SEXUAL HARASSMENT.”

May’s EEOC filing names not just the individual owners of the franchised stores where the alleged incidences of sexual harassment took place, but also parent company McDonald’s Corp. But due to federal labor laws that are currently in flux, holding the McDonald’s corporation responsible for sexual harassment that happens at its franchised locations could prove difficult: Last week the National Labor Relations Board proposed a new “joint employer” rule that severely limits the extent to which companies can be held responsible for how their franchisees treat workers.

But Carlson seems confident that the fast-food chain will ultimately be held liable for sexual harassment that occurs at its franchised stores. “We firmly believe that McDonald’s is a joint employer and should be treated as such,” she says. “Even with this new rule change, as long as there are still unions advocating for the rights of their members, corporations won’t ever be able to ‘pass the buck’.”

Reached for comment on today’s strike and the company’s sexual harassment policies, a spokesperson for McDonald’s provided the following statement:

We have strong policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment. To ensure we are doing all that can be done, we have engaged experts in the areas of prevention and response, including RAINN, to evolve our policies so everyone who works at McDonald’s does so in a secure environment every day.

The fast-food giant is reportedly consulting Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw on its sexual harassment policies. Seyfarth has defended numerous large corporations against sexual harassment cases, but is perhaps best known for currently defending the Weinstein Co. against a lawsuit claiming that the company was complicit in Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct.

“It is absurd that in response to worker’s demands to strengthen sexual harassment and abuse policies, McDonald’s has chosen to hire Seyfarth Shaw at Work, a firm that defended the Weinstein Company in the Harvey Weinstein affair,” says Shaunna Thomas, executive director of women’s advocacy group UltraViolet, in a press release. “If McDonald’s is serious about meeting worker demands, they’d start by firing Seyfarth and listening to their employees.”

Women Who Work at McDonald’s Are Striking Next Week Over Sexual Harassment [Vox]

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