A McDonalds store. (Flickr/Sean MacEntee)
At a New York City rally tomorrow, striking guest workers will announce major March 26 mobilizations outside McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Chicago, and at the home of company CEO Don Thompson.
As The Nation has reported, the strikers are students who came to the United States from Asia and Latin America on J-1 visas, which are designated for educational and cultural exchange. Working at McDonald’s stores in central Pennsylvania, they allege they were assigned shifts of up to twenty-five consecutive hours, lived in sub-standard employer-owned housing and faced retaliation and threats when they raised objections or declined work. Organizers from the National Guestworker Alliance, the labor group which has been working closely with the workers since late last month, say that fifteen of the seventeen guest workers employed by McDonald’s franchisee Andy Cheung are participating in the week-old work stoppage.
Cheung did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement e-mailed Friday, McDonald’s said, “We take the well-being of the employees working in McDonald’s restaurants seriously.” The company added that it was “currently investigating this matter,” and would provide franchisees with resources “to ensure they understand both the letter and the spirit of all the requirements of the State Department’s J-1 Visa program, as well as all applicable laws and the expectations for full compliance by McDonald’s.”
“They say they want to know what happened,” striker Alicia Marin told The Nation. But “they don’t ask the real students what happened.”
Strikers are calling on the McDonald’s corporation to meet with them directly, sign a new labor rights agreement with protections against retaliation, and ensure that they are compensated for unpaid wages. Since launching their work stoppage last week, the guest workers have held demonstrations and met with supporters in Pennsylvania and New York. In Pittsburgh, strikers and activists held a “mic check” action inside a store, with the crowd repeating a message from a striker calling for local management to contact McDonald’s national headquarters on their behalf. At tomorrow’s noon Times Square rally, the striking guest workers will be joined by some of the McDonalds workers who staged a one-day strike three months ago. Workers have also filed formal complaints with the federal Department of Labor and with the State Department, which oversees the J-1 visa.
Workers charge that their strike has brought down an additional form of retaliation: Hours after the work stoppage began, they found themselves locked out of the employer-owned basements where they’ve been paying rent to live. NGA Lead Organizer Jacob Horwitz told The Nation that one group of workers was told by Cheung’s son Jason, who lived above the basement where they were staying, that Richard Johnson, the general manager of one of Cheung’s McDonald’s locations, needed to speak with them. Minutes later, said Horwitz, Johnson “pulled up shouting at people, screaming ‘Get off my property! Get off my property!’” and “aggressively drove his car, nearly hitting organizers and workers.”