Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — A group of McDonald’s workers and their supporters staged a midday protest at one of the fast-food giant’s South Los Angeles locations Sept. 18 as part of a coordinated series of rallies alleging a company failure to respond to complaints of groping, lewd comments and unwanted propositions for sex.
Dozens of people carried signs and chanted as they marched into the McDonald’s on Florence Avenue near the Harbor (110) Freeway, crowding around the counter and disrupting lunchtime operations.
It was unclear how many participants in the rally were actually McDonald’s employees. Organizers said the participants would include cooks and cashiers who are demanding the company form a committee to address sexual harassment, with the panel including workers, representatives from corporate and franchise stores and leaders of national women’s groups.
“What corporations like McDonald’s forget is that we will no longer stay silent,” one protester told reporters at a rally outside the eatery. “Harassment is considered not just a legal liability but also a serious reputational and business risk. We will hold them accountable.”
Organizers called the action the first-ever nationwide walkout to protest sexual harassment and the first over the issue since 1912, when garment workers at the Kalamazoo Corset Company walked off their jobs.
Similar actions were also held in Chicago, Durham, Kansas City, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, San Francisco and St. Louis.
McDonald’s responded to the strikers’ complaints in general terms, saying it pursues policies meant to forestall sexual harassment.
“There is no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind at McDonald’s,” the company said in a statement. “Since our founding, we’ve been committed to a culture that fosters the respectful treatment of everyone. We have policies, procedures and training in place that are specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment at our company and company-owned restaurants, and we firmly believe that our franchisees share this commitment.”
McDonald’s workers say they have assembled a far-reaching coalition to support their effort, including #MeToo, Affirm LA, several SEIU locals, Bernie Brigade, LA Street Vendor Coalition, LA Tenants Union, California for Progress, Ice out of LA, LA Voice, Military Families Speak Out, Union de Vecinos and others.
The walkout was called by members of local Fight for $15 Women’s Committees, which formed following the filing of charges by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May, and approved in a nationwide strike vote a week ago. The commission charges filed in May came nearly two years after McDonald’s workers in the Fight for $15 filed 16 sexual harassment charges against the company.
They show that despite the spotlight on the issue in Hollywood and the media, little has changed for the burger giant’s frontline workers, according to strike organizers.
Nearly 20 leading national women’s groups joined the Fight for $15 in an open letter to McDonald’s in May, calling on the company to address sexual harassment. In the letter, which ran as a full-page advertisement in Crain’s Chicago, the groups wrote that McDonald’s faces a choice: combat sexual harassment in its stores or face a rejection of its brand by people of conscience.
In addition to demanding the formation of an anti-sexual harassment committee, striking workers will demand McDonald’s strengthen and enforce the zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment outlined in its manual and in its franchisees’ policies, organizers said. Workers are also calling on the company to hold mandatory training for managers and employees and to create a safe and effective system for receiving and responding to complaints.
Sexual harassment is rampant in the fast-food industry, according to a 2016 survey by Hart Research Associates conducted for the National Partnership for Women and Families, the Ms. Foundation and Futures Without Violence, organizers said. Forty percent of female fast-food workers experience unwanted sexual behavior on the job.
The 2016 Hart Research survey also showed that 42 percent of women in the industry who experience unwanted sexual behavior feel forced to accept it because they can’t afford to lose their jobs. The Hart Survey also reported that more than one in five women who face sexual harassment — 21 percent — report that, after raising the issue, their employer took some negative action, including cutting their hours, changing them to a less desirable schedule, giving them additional duties and being denied a raise.