New York, NY – Ronald McDonald’s image as America’s innocuous grinning clown took another series hit on Tuesday, November 12, after the American Civil Liberties Union and fast food workers in Michigan hit the multibillion-dollar eatery with a class action lawsuit alleging a “systemic problem” of sexual harassment in the shadow of its “Golden Arches.”
McDonald’s workers have spent years lodging complaint after complaint against creepy general managers and grill bosses harassing them on the job. And just last week, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was forced out amidst his own sex scandal involving a subordinate.
Hundreds of McDonald’s workers in Michigan also staged a walkout on the same day the class action suit was filed, protesting workplace harassment and demanding greater opportunities to unionize.
During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday morning, a McDonald’s worker from Florida advocating for unionization called McDonald’s culture “rotten from top to bottom” and insisted that “nothing is going to change for us without us.”
“Winning our union would mean a collective voice to stand up for ourselves and make sure we’re protected from harassment on the job,” the working mom said. “Winning our union would mean a seat at the table. McDonald’s culture is rotten from top to bottom — it can’t be trusted to fix this problem on its own.”
Tuesday’s strike action in Michigan mirrored similar walkouts staged in nations around the globe including Chile, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, New Zealand, the Philippines, Spain and Thailand.
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry called the McDonald’s struggle a fight against “unchecked corporate influence” that’s also “part of a national conversation about working people demanding power in our economy.”
“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,” Henry said in a statement. “Workers are demanding a true seat at the table with McDonald’s and all corporations.”
On October 23, Chipotle workers in Manhattan staged a walkout and march protesting that corporation’s flagrant violation of Fair Workweek rules.
In a significant demonstration of class solidarity, striking Michigan fast food workers on Tuesday also enjoyed the support of numerous security officers, healthcare workers and janitors.
“The only reason I’m standing here today is because of my union,” said Teri Ellieberry, a nursing home worker with SEIU Healthcare Michigan. “Through the ups and downs, my union has made all the difference. There’s so much truth about power in numbers. We’re better and stronger together in numbers. So I stand in solidarity with all fast-food workers and every low wage worker who’s fighting for good union jobs and wages that will sustain their families and households.”
Class action plaintiff Jenna Reis, 32, told reporters on Tuesday, that as soon as she started working at a McDonald’s outside Lansing, Michigan in 2017, a swing manager there immediately began sexually harassing her.
“He verbally assaulted me on a regular basis, calling me horrible names like ‘bitch,’ ‘slut,’ and ‘whore’ in front of co-workers and the general manager for the whole restaurant,” Reis said. “He also physically assaulted me. He took every opportunity to grab me in the crotch, breast and butt. He forcefully put his privates in my hand. This swing manager would also pull my hair and purposefully push me into other co-workers. At one point, when I walked into the walk-in freezer, he cornered me against the wall. I was so scared, but I was thankfully able to push him off and get away.”
Other female McDonald’s workers reported similar heinous attacks on the job. The class action law suit against McDonald’s USA, McDonald’s Corp. and franchisee MLMLM Corp. seeks at least $5 million in damages and hopes to compel McDonald’s to implement “effective worker-centered anti-harassment polices and procedures, including workers-led mandatory training,” as well as “a safe system of reporting, adequate investigation and discipline and protections against retaliation.”
Workers have also filed charges against McDonald’s at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC].
“McDonald’s likes to say that it is powerless to stop the sexual harassment occurring in its franchise restaurants. That would be laughable if it weren’t so destructive to the lives of tens of thousands of workers being left to fend for themselves,” said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Today, we are taking McDonald’s to court to demand that it take responsibility and use its immense power to address the pervasive abuse happening under its ‘Golden Arches.’ Enough is enough.”
McDonald’s workers who have experienced harassment on the job are being urged to call the ACLU Women’s Rights Project at (212) 549-2644 or Altshuler Berzon at (888) 588-8718, or complete an online intake form on the ACLU’s website.
McDonald’s has not yet responded to requests for comment.