The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled yesterday that McDonald’s could be named as a joint employer in complaints filed by workers against franchise-owned restaurants. If the decision is upheld, it could serve as a huge victory for workers as the corporation would be held liable for management practices enforced by its franchise owners.
The majority of America’s fast food restaurants are owned and operated under the franchise system. This includes McDonald’s, Burger King, and those restaurants under the Yum Brands umbrella (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut). This system has allowed corporations to distance themselves from the increasing number of protests by workers regarding working conditions and wages.
The corporations argue that they can’t be held liable because they don’t determine wages or management practices at the individually-owned franchises. But Michah Wissinger, the New York attorney representing McDonald’s workers in some of the cases against the company, and the NLRB say McDonald’s should be considered a joint employer because of the sheer amount of control it exerts over employees in these franchised restaurants.
“McDonald’s can no longer get away with reaping all the profits and the benefits while saddling their franchises with all the risks and blame for low wages,” Wissinger said.
“Employers like McDonald’s seek to avoid recognizing the rights of their employees by claiming that they are not really their employer, despite exercising control over crucial aspects of the employment relationship,” said Julius Getman, a labor law professor at the University of Texas. “McDonald’s should no longer be able to hide behind its franchisees.”
In cases filed in three states, lawyers said that most of McDonald’s franchises use software provided by the company “that calculates employee-to sales ratios and instructs restaurants to reduce staffing when sales drop below a certain level in any given hour,” according to the New York Times. The lawyers said that, as a result of these instructions, workers were told not to clock in right away, sometimes waiting for an hour or two after arriving at work, until more customers arrived. The workers also said that they were sometimes told to clock out but remain on property so they could clock back in as soon as business picked up.
McDonald’s spokesperson Heidi Barker said the company would fight the NLRB ruling before an administrative law judge. “This decision to allow unfair labor practice complaints to allege that McDonald’s is a joint employer with its franchisees is wrong,” said a statement from the company. “McDonald’s will contest this allegation in the appropriate forum.”
Senior vice president of human resources for McDonald’s USA, Heather Smedstad, told the Associated Press that the NLRB’s decision “is such a radical departure that it should be a concern to business men and women across the country.”
Since 2012, the NLRB has reviewed over 180 cases against McDonald’s, finding 43 of them to have merit, which spurred their decision yesterday. Allowing McDonald’s to be named in complaints such as these could go a long way towards workers being able to unionize and could give them more leverage in pressing McDonald’s to make franchise operators raise wages.