Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) was among numerous people arrested as fast food workers and their supporters rallied in more than 150 cities on Thursday. Thousands of workers walked out of restaurants and picked up picket signs, demanding that big restaurant chains pay them a living wage of $15-per-hour. Home care workers also participated in the strikes. Moore was arrested in West Milwaukee, Wis., and other arrests were made in New York City, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere.
“I take great pride in supporting Milwaukee workers as they risk arrest in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow for their families,” Moore said in a statement. “I’ve read their letters, I’ve heard their calls and I’ve listened to their stories. I understand their struggle, but more importantly, I see their drive to fight for a future that is equal to their talents and worthy of their dreams.”
Working families everywhere applaud the courage of the fast-food workers who are striking today and engaging in acts of civil disobedience in over 150 cities. And we applaud the unity and the collective spirit displayed by members of AFL-CIO state federations and labor councils who have joined today’s protests in solidarity.
This nation was built on the fundamental beliefs that work should be a gateway to the middle class, and that no job should ever trap someone in poverty. That’s why the “Fight for Fifteen” movement is surging and the protests are getting ever louder. It’s time for corporations to hear this resounding message: Every worker deserves a fair wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. We support them.
Kendall Fells, organizing director for Fast Food Forward, explained why protesters were willing to take arrest:
There has to be civil disobedience because workers don’t see any other way to get $15 an hour and a union. There’s a long history of this, from the civil rights movement to the farm workers movement.
Workers, who have been striking for months now, are demanding a $15 wage and the ability to join a union. The demands seem pretty straightforward, but there are some specific reasons as to exactly why fast food workers are striking:
1. Because $9 an hour doesn’t support a family. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fast food workers make, on average, $18,880 a year. According to the living wage calculator, that amount would put a family of two at the poverty level. CNN Money reported that a Chicago-based McDonald’s worker Nancy Salgado makes $8.25 an hour, or $600 a month. Salgado, who is a single mother to two kids, notes that after splitting rent with her three roommates and paying for childcare she’s left with a little over $100 a month for food and other necessities. “If I have a dollar at the end of the month it’s a miracle,” Salgado said.
Historically McDonald’s has claimed it has no authority over wages or complaints of workers’ rights violations at its franchise locations because that is up to the individual owners, but the NLRB general counsel determined McDonald’s could be liable as a joint employer in these kinds of situations.
There’s been a lot of head scratching over what this announcement means and its implications for other large companies and workers at these kind of fast food franchises, so here is some basic information to break it all down for you.
How Did This All Come About?
You’ve probably noticed that fast food workers all over the country are fed up. In recent years these workers have been speaking out against low pay and working conditions in the fast food industry, culminating in several strikes and days of action that have captured the hearts and minds of people who care about workers’ rights. Some workers who spoke out said that their employers retaliated against them, even though such concerted activity is protected by federal labor law. Those workers filed charges of unfair labor practices with the NLRB and presented evidence that McDonald’s does indeed have significant control over wages and labor relations at its franchisees. Which brings us to the NLRB McDonald’s news.
What Did the NLRB Say?
General Counsel Griffin investigated charges alleging McDonald’s franchisees and their franchisor, McDonald’s, violated the rights of workers as a result of activities surrounding the fast food strikes and protests. He found some of these charges to have merit and, significantly, determined that McDonald’s should be considered a joint employer with its franchisees. Basically, McDonald’s wouldn’t be able to hide behind the franchisee, but also may be held responsible for the policies in place that deal with terms and conditions of employment, and labor practices.
What Happens Next?
If the workers and the employers cannot come to a settlement, the NLRB general counsel will issue complaints and try the cases before administrative law judges. Those judges then make rulings and the losing parties can appeal to the full NLRB board in Washington, D.C. NLRB decisions could be appealed to a federal appeals court, and then possibly to the Supreme Court.
Will All Franchisors Be Considered Joint Employers Now?
Not necessarily. This case is specific to McDonald’s. That being said, this could have implications for other employers on a case-by-case basis if more unfair labor practice charges come up.
What’s the Big Picture?
Even though this story has a long way to go, this is “pretty significant,” says AFL-CIO Legal Counsel Sarah Fox. What makes this case so interesting is that the joint employer doctrine can be applied not only to fast food franchises and franchise arrangements in other industries, but also to other practices companies use to avoid directly employing their workers, such as subcontracting, outsourcing and using temporary employment agencies. “Companies are increasingly using these kinds of arrangement to distance themselves from their workers and shield themselves from liability as employers,” says Fox. “These are the devices they use so that they can get the benefit of the work the employees do, but say ‘I’m not responsible’ for unfair labor practices, health and safety violations, paying proper employment taxes or complying with other legal responsibilities of an employer.”
The notion of the joint employer doctrine is an important concept for holding employers responsible, even if there’s a third party involved, when they are effectively exerting control over wages and working conditions.