McDonald’s workers win legal victories

By ANN MONTAGUE

Labor activists, including Fight for $15 and the Service Employees International Union, have been staging demonstrations and employee walkouts at MacDonald’s and other fast-food chains for the past two years, demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to a union. Along the way, the movement has scored a couple of legal victories against MacDonald’s that should help open the door for union-organizing drives in the entire fast-food franchise sector.

When Seattle approved a $15 minimum wage law last year, the legislation contained a long implementation schedule (five to seven years) for small businesses. However, many fast-food workers were shocked to hear McDonald’s Corporation claim that their outlets should qualify as “small businesses” because they are franchised to individual owners.

In the end, the Seattle law included language that prevents a major corporation from claiming its franchises were exempt from the law’s requirements: “Large employers (businesses with 500 or more employees, either in Seattle or nationally) will reach $15 per hour in three years.”

McDonald’s not only lost in Seattle last year, but on the national level, it recently suffered a setback in regard to the second demand of fast-food strikers: “The right to a union.” The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled last month that McDonalds is a “joint employer” with its franchisees. The ruling overturns McDonald’s claims that it is not the actual employer at its restaurants and that the franchisees are entirely responsible for setting wages and working conditions.

Last month, the NLRB issued 13 complaints that involved 78 charges by workers that McDonald’s USA, LLC and many of their franchisees broke the law by interfering with collective efforts to organize and improve working conditions. The complaints came from regions that include: Manhattan, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Los Angeles. The complaints will now go to a trial before an administrative law judge.

The allegations 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 over broad restrictions on communicating with union representatives or with other employees about unions and the employees’ terms and conditions of employment.” The NLRB is scheduling regional hearings to address these complaints.

There are plans for global demonstrations against McDonalds in 2015. McDonald’s is the largest fast-food employer, with 440,000 full-time and part-time workers in the U.S. According to Business Insider, in April 2012 there were 761,000 McDonald’s workers worldwide.

$15 Now in Philadelphia and Portland

A broad coalition in Philadelphia is building a march and rally on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 19. One of the main demands of the march is “$15 minimum wage and a union.” The other demands of the march are: “End Stop and Frisk; for an independent police review board” and “Fairly funded, democratically controlled schools.” The march will wind through the central city and end at a rally near Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

In another significant development, the Philadelphia city council plans to hold a public hearing on raising the minimum wage. The council’s decision was taken after strong action by the Philadelphia $15 Now coalition, which included bringing low-wage workers to meet city officials in order to give testimony about the hardships of trying to live on poverty wages. During the past year, $15 Now has canvassed neighborhoods around the city and built several neighborhood support groups.

In Portland, Ore., “Don’t Shoot Portland” has endorsed 15 Now, and a series of joint marches have taken place combining the issues of poverty, racism, and police brutality. On Jan. 3, there will be a joint rally starting at a McDonald’s to demand $15, and then a march to spread the “Hands Up, Don’t Spend” message to end corporate domination and income inequality.

Minneapolis airport workers

Last month Kip Hedges, a Delta Airlines baggage handler who was fired for speaking out about the low wages at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, took his case to the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC).

Hedges, a known union activist, was fired on Dec. 2 for comments he made on a “Workday Minnesota” video, in which he said that one-half of all Delta workers make less than $15 an hour. At the Airports Commission meeting, Hedges repeated the words that got him fired and challenged the commissioners to take a stand in support of workers. “I want you to make it clear to Delta that they stand alone on this.”

Many airport workers are participating in 15 Now Minnesota’s campaign for a $15 minimum wage at the airport. Some airport subcontract workers have been engaged in an organizing drive of SEIU Local 26, and flight attendants and ground workers at Delta are seeking union representation with International Association of Machinists (IAM). Along with 15 Now members, they packed the commission meeting and spoke of intimidation and harassment of their respective union organizing drives.

Some commissioners spoke in favor of a “Labor Peace Ordinance” to counteract employer intimidation at the airport. One commissioner said, “They [labor peace ordinances] make for a great workplace, a fair workplace.” Commission Chair Dan Boivin said he agreed and that he would put the issue on the agenda in the first quarter of 2015.

In the meantime, Hedges is pursuing the issue of his firing through Delta’s internal appeal process. If the decision is not overturned, he says he will sue the airline in court for wrongful termination.