Sexual Harassment at McDonald’s: Workers Demand Protection

Sexual assaults perpetrated by men in high-profile positions have garnered a lot of attention in the news lately. Acknowledging and supporting efforts by low-wage restaurant workers to draw awareness to the lack of safe working conditions is also important. Rachel Abrams of the New York Times reports that for the first time in more than a century, hundreds of restaurant workers employed by McDonald’s went on strike in several cities to demand that the largest fast-food chain in the country do more to combat sexual harassment. Shouting “Hold your burgers, hold your fries, keep your hands off my thighs” or covering their mouths with blue duct tape with “MeToo” written on it, workers protested hostile work environments. Employees described being “trapped” by managers making unwanted advances, being groped by customers, and facing retaliation from supervisors when they complained. Abrams explains that low wage restaurant workers represent a large segment of the US workforce and are typically young people and women, groups that are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment. Fight for $15, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, is working to organize and advocate for better pay and working conditions for low-wage workers. The striking employees want McDonald’s to institute stronger policies to protect workers in their fourteen thousand stores in the United States. Their demands include

  • Better training programs for all workers on sexual harassment laws and policies
  • More effective mechanisms to report complaints
  • A corporate committee dedicated to addressing sexual harassment issues
These demands seem basic and reasonable, but Abrams explains that major companies in the fast-food industry often do not feel responsible for bad behavior at individual locations operated by independent franchisees. She cites Mary Joyce Carlson, a Fight for $15 lawyer, who noted that McDonald’s dictates everything from menu boards to hiring practices, so the company can also adopt and enforce policies to identify and prevent sexual harassment. Five steps that McDonald’s can take immediately are
  1. Provide training to workers, and not just to supervisors, on the laws so they know their rights.
  2. Establish multiple mechanisms for reporting sexual harassment, and commit resources to ensure complaints are responded to quickly, making sure that sexual harassment complaint hotlines are staffed and that people who call get help.
  3. Create policies and procedures to protect workers from retaliation.
  4. Train workers on company policies and procedures to prevent harassment of all types.
  5. Listen to workers. Involve them in designing policies and procedures.
Sexual harassment is not about sex—it is about the abuse of power. We must do more as a society to protect vulnerable workers.     Photo courtesy of virginiaretail (CC BY 2.0)]]>

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