Today’s News & Commentary—May 22, 2019
On Tuesday, a group of labor organizations filed 23 new sexual harassment charges and lawsuits against McDonald’s. The Fight for $15 organization, the ACLU, and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund filed 20 complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and three civil rights lawsuits, alleging gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation for reporting both, by the McDonald’s corporation and its franchisee’s independently owned stores. This is the third and largest round of E.E.O.C. complaints that workers have filed against McDonald’s in as many years. “What we’re seeing over and over again in these claims,” says Sharyn Tejani, director of the Time’s Up LDF, “[is that workers are] put in a position where you have to put up with the harassment, or you lose the paycheck that’s keeping you in a house or keeping groceries on the table.”
The charges respond to a problem endemic not only to McDonald’s, but the industry it leads. A 2018 report by the National Women’s Law Center found that the largest share of all sexual harassment charges filed by women at the E.E.O.C. between 2012 and 2016 came from the food service industry, and a national survey conducted by Hart Research Associates in 2016 found that 40% of female fast food workers reported facing sexual harassment on the job and that 21% of those who reported it were retaliated against by their employer.
Whether the charges succeed will depend, in part, on whether the McDonald’s corporation can be held accountable for the actions of its franchisees. A case that may answer that question is currently before the NLRB. In the meantime, McDonald’s workers on Tuesday demonstrated at the company’s corporate headquarters, two days before the annual shareholder meeting, demanding that McDonald’s be held accountable “for widespread sexual harassment in its stores.”
Also on Tuesday, Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), addressed a letter to Volkswagen’s top North American executive, expressing “deep concern” over the company’s apparent efforts to delay a union election at its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant. As Sejal and Jenny reported, the United Auto Workers petitioned in April for a plantwide union election at the Chattanooga factory, but the NLRB halted the campaign on May 3, after Volkswagen filed a counter-petition arguing that the outcome of a prior UAW election wasn’t fully resolved. In their letter, the senators ask 11 questions concerning Volkswagen’s stance on the union campaign and its communications to workers regarding the campaign. Volkswagen has agreed to respond.
On Monday, American Airlines filed suit in federal district court against the two unions representing its mechanics—the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers—alleging that the unions are coordinating an illegal work slowdown to gain leverage in an almost four-year-long collective bargaining dispute. A representative for the Transport Workers Union responded that the allegations of a slowdown are unfounded, and characterized the suit as “an intimidation tactic by AA because the union is fighting back against their efforts to offshore thousands of solid blue collar Jet Mechanic jobs into South America.” As Marissa reported, Southwest Airlines filed a similar suit against its mechanics’ union in March. After the FAA cautioned both sides that their legal dispute threatened to damage Southwest’s safety practices, Southwest and the union struck a tentative agreement in April. Voting on that agreement closed on Tuesday; over 90% of the Southwest Airlines mechanics voted to ratify.