Labor group targets McDonald's in #MeToo protest, but the chain says employees didn't walk off

The Fight for $15 group gathered in 10 cities, and is now offering free legal counsel to workers willing to report sexual harassment on the job.
Photograph: AP Photo/Richard Vogel

Not a single employee of a McDonald’s restaurant walked off the job yesterday to protest the quick-service giant’s policies and record on sexual harassment, according to the franchisor, amid a #MeToo focused, 10-city demonstration organized by Fight for $15, a labor advocacy group.

Fight for $15 invited McDonald’s employees to stop working and join a protest against alleged sexual harassment at the chain. Other members of the coalition were invited to descend on units in 10 metropolitan markets, as well as the new Chicago headquarters of McDonald’s Corp., the brand’s owner and franchisor. Fight for $15 has said 10 McDonald’s employees have filed harassment charges against the company.

Widespread media reports showed hundreds of people participating in the events. It was not clear how many might have been McDonald’s employees, since organizers provided T-shirts emblazoned with the chain’s logo for participants to wear over their clothes.

Opponents of Fight for $15 have maintained that the organization pays people to show up for demonstrations, and point to such evidence as the group’s willingness to pay the legal fees of individuals who are arrested during the protests. But the allegations have not been confirmed.

The crowds at some of yesterday’s protests marched behind banners emblazoned with #MeToo, the slogan and social media tag for the anti-sexual harassment movement that arose earlier this year in response to reports of abuse in politics, entertainment, media and the restaurant industry. Although Fight for $15 has organized protests before against McDonald’s, it says yesterday’s demonstration was the first that called attention to a sexual harassment problem within chain restaurants.

McDonald's has asserted it keeps its workers safe. "We have strong policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment," the company said in a statement. "To ensure we are doing all that can be done, we have engaged experts in the areas of prevention and response to evolve our policies so everyone who works at McDonald’s does so in a secure environment every day."

By the time of this post, Fight for $15 had not responded to a request for comment on the report from McDonald’s that no employees walked off the job during yesterday’s demonstration, which began at the respective lunchtimes of the markets involved.

The group is offering to provide free legal counsel to any employee of a McDonald’s store who comes forward with examples of being sexually harassed on the job. Fight for $15 is inviting the workers to call a free hotline, detail the alleged aggression, identify any managers or executives who were involved, and provide a synopsis of the outcome. “An attorney will review your claim and contact you with any next steps if applicable,” says a recording.

The service is called the #MeToo McDonald’s hotline (844-384-4495), but callers are still invited to recount their experiences if the harassment episodes occurred at other fast-food chains.

The number is posted on Fight for $15’s Facebook page, which has more than 362,000 likes.

The organization is backed in part by the Service Employees International Union, which is also a benefactor of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a group with the stated mission of creating opportunity for restaurant employees. Among its major causes is disallowing the tip credit in the 43 states where the wage break for employers is currently in place. ROC argues in part that making servers depend on tips exposes them unduly to sexual harassment, since their livelihoods depend on appeasing customers regardless of the demands.  

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