While the National Labor Relations Board is currently divided 2-2, the confirmation of another Trump appointee will restore the Republican majority — which is bad news for fast-food-chain workers.
Edward Navales realized a career in large tech firms wasn’t for him, and in 2008 he decided to open his own business. Armed with a University of Texas MBA and guided by a desire to do something meaningful, he decided to start a firm in the health care sector. As he surveyed his options, it seemed like a franchise agreement would be the quickest and surest way to success.
He invested savings, took out a Small Business Administration loan and entered into an agreement with Bright Star Healthcare, a small but fast-growing home health care company. Bright Star promised its franchisees support and flexibility. According to Navales, the reality was something else entirely.
“What I found was inadequate support, unrealistic and predatory minimum sales targets and costly vendor requirements,” Navales said. “I soon learned my fellow franchisees were experiencing the same challenges.” Bright Star, claimed Navales, wasn’t responsive to their requests and complaints,
A recent L.A. Times story profiled a fast-food worker who, according to reporter Don Lee, would lose eligibility for Medicaid if his wages were raised to $15. His wage gains could be “wiped out” by the higher health care costs he’d end up paying. Lee’s portrayal was inaccurate and misleading.
The story centers on 53-year-old Douglas Hunter, a Chicago McDonald’s cook and a leader in the Fight for $15, a national movement of fast-food workers who are pushing for $15 in hourly wages and the right to form a union without employer retaliation.
Hunter is currently enrolled in CountyCare, a Medicaid-managed care plan that pays for his health care, including more than $700 per month in medications and supplies he needs to manage his diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure. Contrary to Lee’s assertion, Hunter would still qualify for Medicaid based on his income if his wage were raised to $15.
As President Obama’s efforts to nudge the U.S. minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour continue to be rebuffed by a Republican Congress, a national coalition of low-wage fast-food and retail workers will be taking their demands for a doubling of the current wage to the streets on Wednesday, in what they promise will be “the largest low-wage worker strike in history.”
Kendall Fells, the organizing director for the Fight for $15 campaign, said the April 15, 200-city walkout will also include actions on about 170 college campuses around the country and abroad.
Wednesday’s one-day strike is part of a three-year campaign spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO to build public support for raising the pay for fast-food and other low-wage workers, a boost that would lift about 12 million Americans above the federal poverty line of $23,850 a year for a family of four.
In March, seven class action lawsuits filed in California, Michigan and New York suggested that for the country’s 30 million-strong low-wage workforce, getting one’s paycheck ripped off by some of the largest and wealthiest employers in America is too often business as usual.
Contending that the McDonald’s restaurant chain had been “systematically stealing” from its workers, the suits detailed company-wide practices of managers regularly ordering employees to work off the clock, shaving hours from their time cards and not paying overtime. Three of the California suits also claimed that McDonald’s and its franchise owners illegally altered pay records and denied employees meal periods and rest breaks. Other plaintiffs alleged McDonald’s used a sophisticated computer program that monitored real-time sales volume: When sales dropped below a certain level during any given hour, attorneys said, some managers would routinely order workers from the incoming shift to not punch in for an hour or two until there were more customers.
The charges against several McDonald’s franchises were as familiar as items on a Happy Meals menu: “illegally firing, threatening or otherwise penalizing workers for their pro-labor activities,” to quote the New York Times. What was novel about them was the news, first reported Tuesday by Associated Press, that the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel had found that the fast-food giant is responsible for these crimes when they are committed by the chain’s individual franchise owners. (Of 181 cases that came before the NLRB, 43 were found to have merit, 64 are still pending investigation and the rest were dismissed.)
This is big – very big. If there is any doubt, look no further than the Wall Street Journal’s headline for the story: McDonald’s Ruling Sets Ominous Tone for Franchisers. The reason for this “ominous” forecast is the knowledge that the NLRB’s findings could establish the principle that the corporation and the chain’s franchise owners are “joint employers,” sharing equal responsibility for their employees’ welfare – and equal blame when workers’ rights are trampled on.
Samuel Quintero has a great responsibility. He is the sole source of income for his mother and younger brother, and has to take desperate measures just to provide what Quintero calls “the bare necessities.”
He adds: “I’ve actually had to rent out my bedroom and other rooms in my house just to get by, and I’m applying for food stamps.”
Quintero has been working at McDonald’s for one year and like many of the company’s employees, says his $8 hourly wage just isn’t enough.
“Sometimes I get the check and I literally don’t even see a dollar from it,” Quintero says. “It goes to the bills or the rent. I see everybody that’s working with me. They’re young and they’re like, ‘Well, we went out and did this or did that,’ and I’m like, ‘I have to support my mom and my little brother.’”
Quintero isn’t alone.
Thursday’s one-day strike by fast-food workers may have received relatively little media coverage, but the doubling of strike sites to 100 cities over the previous nationwide actions showed the movement for higher wages and union recognition is growing.
The largest actions were held in New York City and Chicago, where, according to the Guardian UK, “hundreds of protesters gathered outside a McDonald’s at 6:15 a.m. as a large ‘Christmas Grinch’ ambled about in freezing temperatures.”
According to the Seattle Times, about 150 demonstrators rallied at City Hall following an all-day march in icy weather from neighboring SeaTac. In Los Angeles, rallies were held at dawn in South Los Angeles at a Manchester Boulevard McDonald’s, as well as a Sunset Boulevard McDonald’s in Silver Lake, at noon. The movement for fast-food employee rights has the twin goals of raising starting salaries to $15 an hour (at present they typically begin at $7.25) and to win the right to organize workers into unions.
On the face of it, a report that Walmart has yet to cough up the $7,000 fine it owes the government over an infamous 2008 Black Friday tragedy should be shocking. In fact, Walmart is not simply behind in its payment, it is actively fighting the fine. The incident in question took place when Jdimytai Damour, a store employee at a Long Island Walmart, died during a shopper stampede – a literal “doorbuster” – during which hundreds of people poured through the store’s unhinged glass doors before the dawn of the morning after Thanksgiving.
“Should be shocking,” because somehow we’ve become so used to hearing about the retail giant’s outlandish and dangerous obsession with profits that such news doesn’t surprise many people. Writing in the Huffington Post, Dave Jamieson noted:
For a company with sales of $466 billion last fiscal year, the $7,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration represents little more than a single store’s rounding error.
So an Ohio Walmart started a food drive among its employees to help its lower income workers get a decent Thanksgiving. “Please Donate Food Items Here so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,” reads a sign in the clerk’s break room. Someone snapped a photo on their cell phone, put it on-line and it went viral. The image underscores what Walmart itself knows: One million of its employees earn less than $25,000 dollars a year – impossible to live on in Ohio, much less Los Angeles, where an average apartment rents for $1,480 a month.
But did you know that L.A. County also leads the nation in “food insecurity”? That’s the current euphemism that means people are likely to go hungry. A national network of food banks estimated that 650,000 children in our county risk going without enough to eat. These are kids who live with parents or guardians who cannot afford a balanced meal or who skip dinner themselves to feed their children.