#MeToo meets the #FightFor15 as McDonald's workers walk out over sexual harassment

McDonald's workers in ten US cities staged a mass walkout last week, demanding that the company take action on the rampant sexual abuse and harassment in its franchisees' stores; as the workers pointed out, the company surveils and controls their every move on-shift down to the minutest detail, but can't seem to find any way to chase down reports that women are being groped and then fired if they refuse to perform sexual acts on their supervisors.

What's more, the National Labor Relations Board has already held that McDonald's has a duty to look after the workers in its franchisees' stores (and some of the harassment has taken place in stores owned by McDonald's corporate itself).

The walkout was coordinated with Fight For 15, a workers' rights campaign that was started to focus on purely economic issues (a $15 minimum wage) but whose remit is broadening to include all questions of workplace justice, including harassment of low-waged workers.

As an excellent segment on this week's On the Media discusses, the McDonald's walkout is a new phase in the #MeToo story, whose highest-profile beats have focused on the workplace harassment of famous and powerful women, not sub-minimum-wage women working at fast-food restaurants.

The wider focus on workplace justice has hit a nerve: the organizers who coordinated the walkout have found common cause with each other and the workers they inspired and have vowed to stay together. In the meantime, the labor action has highlighted the need for a union of McDonald's workers, which could organize the workers at the world's second-largest employer.

Meanwhile, the ten women who filed the EEOC complaint last May are spearheading the direct action campaign against McDonald's. These women first met each other when they traveled to Chicago for the annual McDonald's shareholder meeting in Spring 2018 to tell their stories. The experience of testifying together was powerful, and they decided to keep in touch. Their newfound bond, the knowledge that they were not alone, that this was not an individual problem but a systemic and collective grievance, moved them to form committees of women workers in each of their ten cities. It was those committees that organized, voted for, and conducted Tuesday's strike.

The committees traveled to different stores conducting sexual harassment trainings. It was not difficult to mobilize their colleagues. Complaints to management have been ignored or even mocked, the women workers say. Women often lose their jobs — or are forced to quit — if they press their claims. Since a high percentage of those responsible for the harassment have been store or shift managers who have control over scheduling, wages, hiring, and firing, women workers know that retaliation is likely for those who dare to file complaints.

That's why they need a union, workers insist. A union brings more than solidarity. If recognized, as McDonald's has done in Denmark, South Korea, and New Zealand, a McDonald's workers union would bring legal contracts guaranteeing their rights.

#MeToo and McDonald's [Annelise Orleck/Jacobin]