#MeToo: McDonald's Workers Organize Nationwide Strike Against Sexual Assault

#MeToo: McDonald's Workers Organize Nationwide Strike Against Sexual Assault

McDonald’s workers across the country went on strike Tuesday to protest the “rampant” sexual assault within the company’s ranks. According to new reports from The Intercept and The Guardian, the low-wage workers based in 10 cities — Chicago, Durham, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, San Francisco, and St. Louis—galvanized by the #MeToo movement, set on holding the abusers within the private sector to account, each declaring: “I’m not on the menu. Time’s up, McDonald’s!”

The strikes escalated when 10 employees of the fast-food chain decided to file official sexual harassment complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) around May. The agency’s definition of harassment is clear: “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” One of the workers to experience this behavior was a woman by the name of Kimberly Lawson, a standard shift-worker for Kansas City who told The Intercept her co-workers have “constantly” touched her inappropriately and made lewd comments during her time at the company. “I filed a complaint, but nothing was ever done,” the 25-year-old single mother of one told the publication. “[One man] kept working on the same shifts as me,” claiming that once her shift manager also began tormenting her with abusive sexual remarks on the job, she stopped reporting the incidents due to the corporation’s consistent inaction regarding harassment complaints.

In response, McDonald’s anonymous spokesperson immediately released a public statement deflecting these grievances, stating “We have policies, procedures, and training in place that are specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment at our company and company-owned restaurants,” according to The Associated Press. “We firmly believe that our franchisees share this commitment.” McDonald’s, almost begrudgingly, conceded ground to the activists by briefly noting they’d hold meetings with experts to “evolve” these practices in the future. Of course, whether these meetings actually take place is subject to change.

Readers should understand that whether it’s the casting couch, the D.C. hotel room or the disgusting office of some random fast food joint, harassment doesn’t discriminate in its setting. It just so happens the service industry ranks among the worst offenders. Multiple publications have cited a 2014 survey that was published by The Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROCU), a non-profit advocating for increased wages, which found 80 percent of women in the service industry have experienced some form of sexual harassment from co-workers, where around 70 percent of men said the same. In that same survey, they found 80 percent of women and 55 percent of men also reported sexual harassment from their interactions with customers, particularly in establishments relying on the tipping system. The catch is the organization only interviewed 600-so complainants, a low number of participants for any survey wanting credibility, which brought the results into question.

After some digging, we found a 2018 chart recently published by The Center For American Progress, a left-wing organization, who used decades worth of statistics from the non-partisan EEOC agency to find the truth of their claims. Thanks to Jocelyn Frye, who delved into 85,000 charges of alleged sexual misconduct, harassment, and outright rape, she found these low-wage service industries are both overwhelmingly dominated by women, a sizeable amount of whom are minorities, and are absolutely riddled with sexual atrocities compared to other industries. The ROCU’s numbers, despite flawed methods, are consistent. There are some real problems here — and the McDonald’s workers are finally taking action.

Restaurant Sexual Harassment Statistics

The publications note this is the first nation-wide strike where low-wage workers have specifically targeted the issue of sexual harassment within the workplace, showcasing how the #MeToo movement has moved away from the cries of Hollywood elites against high-profile abusive movie producers to include the forgotten blue-collar laborer and their fights against corporate America. “It’s historic,” Lawson, a known Fight-For-$15 political organizer further explained to The Intercept. “Women are finally coming together and standing up — and creating hope for other women across the country.”

It should be noted their views separate from the early success of Hollywood’s #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Instead of now-movie-elites sharing their stores of sexual abuse in contrast to the successes that we know them to be today, these service workers are tying their abuse to their economic status. “These are low-wage workers. They are the most vulnerable,” explained Mary Joyce Carlson, the labor lawyer providing counsel for these activists, who spoke with The Intercept. “They need these jobs, and the jobs themselves pay the lowest: $7.25, $8, maybe $9. Powerful men are not in their universe, and they don’t have celebrity power themselves. These workers are taking on a corporation. They have to act collectively.”

This frames their strike as a form of collective organization, endorsed by the U.S. First Amendment, against both the moral and economic abuses they’ve suffered at the hands of corporate inaction. “It’s an exercise in frustration” Carlson continued, explaining their ties to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund seek not only a cultural change, but economic, where these victims are granted the liberty to either keep their positions or leave in the event of abuse. A noble cause which, when the activist's efforts were echoed across the country, resulted in Disney World granting their workers a $15 hourly wage.

Unlike Disney, however, the McDonald’s fight remains an uphill battle due to the corporation’s stance on union representation — which employees believe contributes to sustained abuse. “If we had a union, things like this wouldn’t happen so much,” both Lawson and Carlson told The Intercept. “For one thing, if these workers had a union, they would have somewhere to go with these complaints. Now there’s no safe place. And with a union, there’s much less fear of retaliation,” which often come in the form of wrongful termination for being the company’s dreaded whistleblower.

Through their franchise structure, where this is considered the norm, McDonald's can simply refuse to take responsibility for any wrongdoing and let the noisy troublemaker go. Another 2016 survey found that of the 40 percent of fast-food workers that experienced sexual abuse, a plurality found that keeping their jobs required they must accept the behavior of their colleges. Of those that reported this abuse, an estimated one in five said unspecified retaliations were the result. It’s not unreasonable to say this shouldn’t happen.

Their demands, according to The Intercept, are rather simple: allow workers to have their voices heard and efficiently responded to, whether it’s a mandatory investigation, continued anti-harassment training for managers and employees, some kind of direct hot-line for employees, independent of retaliation from unethical big management, as well as a national committee to address sexual harassment, where there’s equal representation of workers and franchise representatives. Sure, that’s quite tall ask for workers to feel safe within their walls, but such is the price of living standards and sexual liberty for the multi-billion-dollar corporation. Unlike their ready-to-go cheeseburgers, these rights could be a very long wait.