“I lived in constant fear of losing my job because I didn’t want to be treated like trash, and because I didn’t give in to my harasser’s disgusting behavior,” former McDonald’s worker Jenna Ries said in a statement announcing a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s. “I’m speaking out now to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else at McDonald’s.”
Ries led the American Civil Liberties Union and Michigan McDonald’s workers’ class-action lawsuit against the fast-food chain filed in November—and is demanding that McDonald’s address a “systemic problem” of sexual harassment in its restaurants across the country.
“McDonald’s is the leader of the country’s fast-food industry, yet these complaints show McDonald’s is among fast-food’s worst offenders when it comes to protecting the workers who make the company’s success possible,” Eve Cervantez, an attorney who represents many of the McDonald’s workers who have filed complaints in recent years, said in a statement. “Employees should not have to endure violation of their humanity and bodily autonomy as the price of earning a paycheck.”
Over the past three years, McDonald’s has failed to stop those violations. Last May, a group of McDonald’s filed 25 sexual harassment charges against the fast-food powerhouse, adding their voices to upwards of 50 suits filed by workers alongside Fight for $15, an international organization of low-wage workers, in the last three years.
“It’s time to rewrite the rules so workers can come together across the fast-food industry to bargain for better wages, better working conditions, and a better future,” said Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry. “Workers are demanding a true seat at the table with McDonald’s and all corporations.”
The most recent suit against McDonald’s USA, McDonald’s Corp. and franchisee MLMLM Corp. demands stricter and worker-centered anti-harassment policies and procedures—including worker-led mandatory training, a safe system of reporting, adequate investigation and discipline and protections against retaliation.
“After I reported the sexually-explicit language and inappropriate touching I regularly faced,” Florida employee Jamelia Fairley said in a press release reported by Ms., “my hours got cut, making it nearly impossible for me to support my daughter.”
The same month workers filed their class-action suit, then-McDonald’s president and chief executiveSteve Easterbrook was fired from his position as chief executive in November after it came to light that he had engaged in a relationship with an employee—a clear violation of the company’s policy. Easterbrook’s amicable split from the company included a severance package that is reportedly worth as much as $70-$85 million. The sharp contrast between Easterbrook’s severance package and the blowback female employees receive after speaking up is telling.
“We’re demanding McDonald’s new CEO, Chris Kempczinski, sit down with worker-survivors and hear our stories,” Jamelia Fairley, a leader in the Fight for $15 and a union McDonald’s worker from Sanford, Florida, who filed a sexual harassment complaint against the company earlier this year, declared in November. “McDonald’s needs to let survivors and our advocates drive the solution. Nothing is going to change for us, without us.”
Workers fighting for that meeting marched on this week, when McDonald’s employees who had suffered sexual harassment at work disrupted a Chicago event where the company’s Vice President and Chief Talent Officer Melanie Steinbach facilitated a roundtable on how to “manage culture” for retention and demanded corporate leaders meet with them to craft solutions. The Fight for $15 and a Union, Futures Without Violence, the American Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center, Progressive National Baptist Convention and Color of Changed also signed a letter this week, which ran in USA Today as a full-page ad, calling on the roundtable participants to echo their demands.
“While McDonald’s is telling people how to ‘manage culture’ to keep their workers happy on the job, cooks and cashiers are being sexually harassed in your stores on a regular basis,” one worker-survivor told Steinbach. “And more often than not, when we report the harassment, we’re dismissed, made fun of, our hours are cut, or we’re forced to quit. MeToo, McDonald’s.”