#MeToo strikes at McDonald’s

September 19, 2018

Ann Coleman explains how fast-food workers organized a one-day strike to draw attention to the sexual harassment they face every day on the job.

MCDONALD’S WORKERS across 10 cities walked off the job on September 18 to demand an end to sexual harassment in the workplace — helping to shine the #MeToo spotlight on the Golden Arches.

In Chicago, workers and their supporters marched to the McDonald’s headquarters, called “Hamburger University,” carrying a banner that read “#MeToo McDonald’s.” Many wore tape with “MeToo” written on it covering their mouths.

They chanted, “We’re here, we’re loud. Sexual harassment is not allowed” and “Respect us! Accept us! Don’t try to touch us!”

“Today, fast-food workers just like me are breaking the silence, we’re taking the historic step and we’re going on strike to tell McDonald’s no more sexual harassment,” McDonald’s worker Adriana Alvarez told the crowd.

Workers also joined actions at McDonald’s locations in Durham, North Carolina; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Miami; Milwaukee; New Orleans; Orlando, Florida; San Francisco and St. Louis.

McDonald's workers hold a silent march against sexual abuse at the company's headquarters
McDonald's workers hold a silent march against sexual abuse at the company's headquarters (@chifightfor15 | Twitter)

This is the first coordinated public action in what has been mostly an online campaign and legal battle. In 2016, the Fight for 15 published reports of widespread sexual harassment on the job in a video campaign highlighting the stories of survivors of sexual harassment in the fast-food industry.

In May, 10 complaints from workers in eight different cities were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against McDonald’s regarding reports of on-the-job sexual harassment.

Last week, women’s committees formed by employees at dozens of McDonald’s restaurants announced that they had approved a walkout. Lead organizers include several women who filed the EEOC complaints in May, and hundreds of workers participated in the committee meetings.

BESIDES POVERTY wages and lack of benefits, the conditions these workers face include wage theft, fast repetitive work, burns from grills and hot grease, slip-and-fall injuries, exposure to harmful cleaning chemicals and widespread sexual harassment.

As the Fight for 15 video campaign exposed, women at fast-food restaurants experience sexual harassment 60 percent more than women in other workplaces. Four out of 10 fast-food workers face sexual harassment on the job.

Workers involved in the video campaign reported in their own words their exposure to groping, verbal and physical abuse, and even rape.

Many of the workers’ complaints to local management and franchise owners were ignored, and when perpetrators received no reprimands or discipline, the workers sought to change their situation by requesting different hours or store location changes.

Some workers even faced victim-blaming and retaliation for reporting the harassment and abuse. As in most cases, many claims of sexual harassment go unreported out of workers’ fear of losing their jobs.

McDonald’s, like other multibillion-dollar fast-food corporations, attempt to cover up their anti-worker policies with propaganda about how they care about their workers, like this condescending video about “McResources” available through a help line, or they attempt to distance the corporation from practices of the franchises’ ownership and management.

But many workers already see through these ploys to make McDonald’s look like it’s a worker-friendly corporation.

When McDonald’s announced it was celebrating International Women’s Day earlier this year in order to highlight their “commitment” to women’s lives, it faced a backlash from people who pointed out that the corporation has to do more than say it supports working women — it actually has to provide fair working conditions and wages.

According to the Center for American Progress, in 2016, the EEOC received more than 90,000 workplace complaints with about one-third of those complaints related to harassment charges. Half of the harassment complaints involved sex-based harassment, with the largest number of claims in the food services industry.

THE STRIKES, walkouts, rallies and press conferences against sexual harassment at McDonald’s yesterday were boosted by the explosion of the #MeToo movement and anchored by the ongoing struggle against income inequality started by the Fight for 15 in 2012 when 200 fast-food workers walked off the job to demand $15 per hour and union rights in New York City.

The EEOC complaints from cashiers and cooks filed against McDonald’s earlier this year were supported by the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a $21 million charity launched in January 2018 to support low-income workers who want to report sexual harassment.

It was 10 years ago this week that Lehman Brothers collapsed and the 2008 Great Recession shook world markets. Banks and corporations were bailed out while poor and working people bore the brunt of the blow, losing their homes, their jobs, and their savings.

Over the last 10 years, the restoration of profits for the banks and corporations were made on the backs of low-wage workers, as attacks on union rights at the state and federal level helped expand the gap between rich in poor in the U.S.

According to a 2017 report based on census data from the career website Zippia, income inequality increased in all 50 states from 2010 to 2016. States like New York, California, Louisiana and Florida are in the top five most unequal states with some of the fastest-growing income inequality.

Workers at McDonald’s deserve our support and are showing a way forward for other workers standing up for living wages, health care and harassment-free work environments.

In Chicago, hotel workers went on strike September 7 for higher wages, health care benefits and protections from racism and sexual harassment.

Many of these workers also took the struggle to City Hall to win the “Hands Off, Pants On” ordinance to protect workers from sexual assault and harassment by requiring hotels to provide panic buttons to all housekeepers.

In California, 100 janitors started a 100-mile march on September 10 to stop rape on the night shift.

By marching from San Francisco to Sacramento, these workers hope to build support for Assembly Bill 2079, better known as the Janitor Survivor Empowerment Act, requiring employer-financed peer-to-peer training on how to prevent sexual violence including self-defense classes to learn how to prevent a supervisor from making advances if they are alone on a night shift.

By connecting the power of #MeToo to the Fight for 15, struggles like the McDonald’s strike this week are leading the way to take up the contradictions and inequality based in both exploitation and oppression.

Solidarity, justice and equality are the only way forward.

Elizabeth Schulte contributed to this article.

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