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.