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McDonald’s charged with abusing workers over wage protests

A lawyer from the National Labor Relations Board filed formal complaints against McDonald's and some of its franchises on Friday. To unpack this story further, Steven Greenhouse, a former correspondent for the New York Times, who has covered labor issues, joins Hari Sreenivasan.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yesterday, we told you that the National Labor Relations Board filed formal complaints against McDonald's and some of its franchisees.

    To unpack this story further, we're joined now by Steven Greenhouse. Until this past week, he was a correspondent for The New York Times who covered labor issues, among other things.

    So, what does the NLRB allege that McDonald's or its franchisees did?

  • STEVEN GREENHOUSE:

    So, the Labor Board says that McDonald's and many of its franchisees around the country improperly retaliated against, spied on workers who participated in this Fight for 15 campaign of fast food workers, demanding a base wage of $15 an hour at fast food restaurants around the country.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK.

    So, there's usually a distinction between McDonald's, the owning franchise, or, I guess, the brand, and all of the franchisees. But why are they lumped together in this?

  • STEVEN GREENHOUSE:

    What's really gotten under McDonald's and the business community's skin is the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board is saying McDonald's is a joint employer with its franchisees.

    So, it's saying that a franchise that might have 30 employees and often acts as if, well, I, the franchise owner, I'm the only employer, the NLRB is saying McDonald's exercises so much influence over the restaurants, telling them, you know — with all sorts of requirements about how to cook, how to keep things clean, ways to handle your employees, the NLRB said, McDonald's, you're a joint employer.

    And, for McDonald's, that's quite bad news, because it means if a franchise owner is charged with not paying overtime or if he's charged with retaliating against someone for exercising his — his rights to form a union, not just the franchise operator will be accused and charged, but McDonald's itself can be held jointly responsible.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, this has repercussions beyond McDonald's, then.

  • STEVEN GREENHOUSE:

    Yes. So, this has sent shockwaves through franchise industries around the country, you know, restaurants, retailers, I guess auto lube company — all sorts of companies.

    And then, on Friday, there was this big telephonic — telephonic news conference with the Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, the International Franchise Association, and the National Restaurant Association.

    They're upset. And they really want to persuade the courts, they want to persuade Congress to do something about this NLRB action.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, now it goes in front of an administrative law judge, but what does that mean? What are the next steps in this fight?

  • STEVEN GREENHOUSE:

    So, these are only allegations. It's civil, not criminal.

    So, a judge will hear it. And if the judge rules against McDonald's, then McDonald's will likely appeal to the five-person NLRB in Washington, then probably to the federal courts.

    Unions are very, very happy about what the NLRB did, because it means that it gives them much more leverage pressure against — against McDonald's and its franchisees.

    If McDonald's is considered a joint employer, that means it will pressure its franchisees to comply with the law more.

    And unions are trying — this fast food campaign is trying to unionize McDonald's. And the fact that it could — that if it's a joint employer, you could try to run a nationwide campaign to unionize all the McDonald's around the country, rather than just this franchise here in New York and this one in Cincinnati, this one in Saint Louis.

    So it is really is a boon for the unions, but, as I said, it's not great for McDonald's.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Steven Greenhouse, thanks so much.

  • STEVEN GREENHOUSE:

    Sure. Great to be here.

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