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News :: Labor
Unionize Fast Food Work! McDonald’s Corp. Can’t Hide Behind Franchise System on Low Wages
31 Aug 2014
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McJob rally.jpg
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McDonald’s workers demanding “$15 and a union” have reason to cheer. A move by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Office of the General Counsel on July 29 throws a big wrench in the corporation’s franchise system and could open the door to more worker organizing.

The news follows several one-day demonstrations by supporters of fast food workers, most recently in May, when a few restaurant workers walked off their low-wage jobs in 150 U.S. cities to attend Democratic Party rallies vaguely calling for increased wages in a campaign coordinated by the Service Employees (SEIU). Workers charge that on top of paying unlivably low wages, the restaurants break the law by stealing wages and retaliating against those who speak up.


While 761,000 people work for McDonald’s in the U.S., they have more than 3,000 different bosses. These bosses are franchisees—individuals or companies that pay McDonald’s for permission to use the brand and set up shop. McDonald’s also directly operates 15 percent of its stores. Individual franchisees have little power over how to operate the restaurants.

They sign an agreement to follow McDonald’s guidelines and even to purchase supplies only from the corporate office, where menu item prices are also set. For McDonald’s, the largest burger chain in the world, it’s a dream deal—guaranteed income without having to shoulder the risk of, say, getting caught breaking labor laws.

They’re free to plead ignorance, much like employers who hide behind layers of subcontractors. Supposedly franchisees decide workers’ wages. But in reality headquarters controls wages “by controlling every other variable in the business except wages,” explains a report from the National Employment Law Project. It’s no coincidence those wages all hover around the minimum.

So if workers want to raise the wage, they’ll have to get the corporation to the table. JOINT EMPLOYER By calling McDonald’s a “joint employer” with its franchisees, the General Counsel—that’s the prosecuting side of the NLRB—sided with workers, who argue the corporation exerts so much control over store operations that it should be held accountable for what happens under its Golden Arches. The agency’s judicial side—the actual Labor Board—is independent of the prosecuting side, so there’s no guarantee it will ultimately agree with this interpretation.

But this is a big first step. Several dozen unfair labor practice claims, alleging unpaid wages, work off the clock, and retaliatory firings, have been on hold in local NLRB offices across the country. The General Counsel’s announcement will clear the way for local NLRB offices to hold the corporation, not just franchisees, accountable for the workplace abuses. That should help turn up the heat on corporate.

If rulings start coming out against the corporate office, that should help turn up the heat on McDonald’s. Maybe enough to push them to cut a deal with the union. NOW WHAT? Though the news is good, it probably doesn’t mean workers will soon be negotiating their working conditions with McDonald’s Corporation. After all, fellow low-wage employer Walmart directly operates its stores—yet unions have been unable to keep a toehold there. Just before the NLRB announcement, fast food workers held a convention, underwritten by SEIU, near McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago.

There 1,200 workers from many fast food chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell, pledged to escalate their tactics, including to civil disobedience. These workers are in for a long fight, but there are victories they can look to for inspiration. It’s not impossible to win agreements that bring three groups—in this case the corporation, the franchisees, and the workers—to the table. After five years of organizing, farmworkers in North Carolina tobacco fields forced R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to the table in 2012.

They used a sustained attack on the Reynolds brand to get the attention of both growers and the corporation that buys their crop. This summer they’re upping their organizing, seeking to produce enough pressure to actually win a joint contract, as other farmworkers have done. Tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida organized in the fields and with allies for decades before finally winning three-way contracts with growers and the fast food chains that buy from them.

The same possibility exists at McDonald’s and other franchised fast-food corporations. Some day we may see multi-sided contracts crisscrossing the whole fast food supply chain, uniting farmworkers, meatpackers, truckers, and retail workers against a single brand. But it’s going to take a lot more than the NLRB’s opinion to get there. -

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Woman working 4 jobs to make ends meet dies while napping in car between shifts
31 Aug 2014
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A New Jersey woman who worked four jobs, who sometimes “wouldn’t sleep for five days,” according to a co-worker, died Monday while napping between shifts in her car on the side of the road. Maria Fernandes died in her 2001 Kia Sportage after inhaling carbon monoxide and fumes from an overturned gas container she kept in the car, according to the New York Daily News.

The 32-year-old Newark woman pulled into a WAWA convenience store lot in Elizabeth, New Jersey for a nap early Monday. She left the car running. The carbon monoxide and gasoline fumes were the likely cause of death, authorities said. Fernandes was found dead in the car around eight hours later when EMTs responded to a 911 call of a woman found in a vehicle with closed windows and doors. Emergency workers sensed a strong chemical odor upon entering the vehicle, authorities said.

"This sounds like someone who tried desperately to work and make ends meet, and met with a tragic accident," Elizabeth police Lt. Daniel Saulnier said, according to An autopsy this week failed to determine the exact cause of death. Police are awaiting results of toxicology tests, Saulnier said, adding that no foul play is suspected.

Fernandes emigrated to the United States from Portugal. She was beloved by co-workers at the Penn Station Dunkin’ Donuts in Manhattan, who called her a model employee. “She used to work like three shifts every day,” Parth Patel told “Sometimes she wouldn’t sleep for five days.”

Fernandes also logged shifts at the chain store’s Linden and Harrison, New Jersey locations, co-workers said.

“She was a very sweet person. A hardworking person,” said Ravina Ramjit. “She was always joking around with everybody.” Co-workers said Fernandes often sang Michael Jackson songs at work, mimicking his dance moves on the job. She had planned to take a break from her jobs this Friday to celebrate Jackson’s birthday at a Central Park memorial, according to

Police have attempted to contact Fernandes's sister in Portugal, Saulnier said. Police are also seeking a brother who works as a trucker out-of-state, he said.

About 7.5 million Americans are working more than one job, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those jobs often leave people short on income compared to full-time work, said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. "These are folks who would like to work full-time but they can't find the jobs," Van Horn said. "They wind up in these circumstances in which they are exhausted. More commonly it creates just an enormous amount of stress.”

Following the recession that began in 2008, many Americans were shuffled into part-time employment, working two or three such jobs to make ends meet. "The average person who lost their job took a 10 percent pay cut (after returning to the workforce)," Van Horn said.

Workers in the United States are earning an average of 23 percent less than earnings from jobs that were lost during the economic recession that began in 2008, according to a recent report, as wealth inequality in the US has shot to record highs, according to variousindicators. Many long-term unemployed are considering abandoning their job search following years of stagnant economic growth.