Around the world, the ubiquitous Golden Arches are often paired with the barely fathomable proclamation: “Billions and Billions Served.” But that boast may now be a bit of a liability, thanks to this week’s ruling by the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel.
General Counsel Richard Griffin Jr., prosecutor for unfair labor practice claims at the NLRB, ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is a joint employer of its vast workforce, sharing liability alongside its thousands of franchisees nationwide. This is very unwelcome news for the fast-food giant, because even though the corporation proudly takes credit as the purveyor of an astronomical volume of Big Macs, it has always sloughed off responsibility as an employer of an equally enormous number of impoverished and exploited workers.
The ruling authorizes dozens of complaints under the National Labor Relations Act that have been brought by McDonald’s workers. If the joint-employer designation is upheld, it would enable workers to hold the company to account for violating workers’ right to take collective action, and parallel allegations against McDonald’s as an employer in other pending lawsuits. This could ultimately advance the workers’ efforts to forge a union contract across many McDonald’s branches.
There have been 181 cases involving McDonald’s since November 2012—the time that a small group of fast-food workers staged a demonstration in New York and kicked off what would become a global campaign for workplace justice. The General Counsel stated that while some cases had been thrown out and another sixty-four were still being investigated, there were “forty-three cases where complaint has been authorized,” and depending on how those cases play out in hearings, “McDonald’s franchisees and/or McDonald’s, USA, LLC will be named as a respondent if parties are unable to reach settlement.”
If the NLRB ultimately rules in these cases that McDonald’s did crack down on or otherwise retaliated against or intimidated the workers as they demonstrated and staged sporadic wildcat strikes, the company could face penalties for labor violations. More importantly, no longer would McDonald’s be able to cast blame on individual franchisees for poor working conditions. Liability would go straight to the top, which has always been the target of the chief union supporting the campaign, SEIU.