Fight for $15 blocks McDonald’s deal dumping labor law responsibility on franchisees
Protesters gather outside a McDonald's during a demonstration for higher wages on Nov. 29, 2016 in Minneapolis. The protest was part of the National Day of Action to Fight for $15. | David Joles / Star Tribune via AP

NEW YORK (PAI)—Fight for $15 and a Union, the labor-backed drive to empower low-wage workers nationwide, rejected a deal between the Trump-named National Labor Relations Board and McDonald’s on April 5. The settlement would have given harmed workers back pay but would also shunt aside the major issue in the case, the joint responsibility of corporate headquarters and their local franchise-holders for obeying or breaking labor law.

The massive fast food firm and NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb—its top enforcement officer—presented their closed-door agreement to NLRB Administrative Law Judge Lauren Esposito in New York. But it needed Fight for 15’s approval to go ahead. There, Fight for 15’s lawyer, Micah Wissinger, rejected it.

So did Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, whose union is the top backer of Fight for $15.

“We can’t let them [corporations] get away with off-loading employees to their franchisees,” Henry told a National Consumers League-sponsored conference on wage and hour law the week before the New York hearing. “At this moment, McDonald’s is trying to get away with it through negotiating with Trump’s NLRB General Counsel.”

“The deal was improper because it did not hold McDonald’s responsible for unlawful retaliation against workers who took part in nationwide protests calling for higher wages” at the fast food firm, Wissinger’s firm, Levy Ratner, said in a statement.

The deal, or lack of it, is important, because of the wide impact of the key issue involved: Whether a corporate headquarters is equally responsible with its local franchises for obeying or breaking labor law.

As long as franchise holders could be separated from headquarters in occupations with millions of workers—hotel chains, fast food restaurants, drug stores, and more—the workers could boomerang from pillar (headquarters) to post (the local owner) in trying to win their union rights, bargain, or get back pay. The McDonald’s case aimed to end that back-and-forth.

Since 2012, Fight for $15 has been arguing for, and pushing cases about, holding both headquarters and franchise-holders jointly responsible. When Democrats held an NLRB majority, former General Counsel Richard Griffin favored that position.

The fast food firm agreed to $1 million in back pay for harmed workers, but not the key joint employer issue, which is also a bugaboo of Congress’ ruling Republicans. Fight for $15’s “no” keeps the issue alive.

The NLRB’s own statement made it clear McDonald’s settled to avoid lawsuits over the back pay. NLRB claimed the settlement would “represent a full remedy for the employees who have waited since the first charges were filed in November of 2012 and, if approved, would avoid years of possible additional litigation.”

On a related issue, two days before the latest hearing, McDonald’s workers took to the streets in 16 cities to protest the firm’s reneging on promised raises that would take them $1 per hour above federal, state, or local minimum wages, whichever was highest.

“McDonald’s publicity stunt has turned out to be a sham,” worker Kayla Kuper told Reuters. She earns $11.40 hourly at a McDonald’s corporate store—not a franchise—in Chicago. The city’s minimum wage is $12 an hour.

“We can’t take this company at its word. That’s why we need union rights—so that we can hold McDonald’s accountable and win the decent wage and basic benefits we need to support our families,” Kuper said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.