It’s bad enough when you come home from work every night with empty pockets; it’s worse when you start every workday with your boss’s hands stuffed down your shirt. But according to new complaints filed by McDonald’s workers and a nationwide survey, sexual abuse and harassment are rampant at fast food restaurants.
Complaints filed at the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by McDonald’s workers in eight states describe incidents involving unwanted sexual touching, offers of pay in exchange for sexual favors, and retaliatory threats to keep workers silent while providing service with a smile. In the complaints and accompanying video testimonials, as reported at The Huffington Post, the campaign presented stories of both men and women being stalked, grabbed, kissed and subjected to solicitations and taunts about “liking penis.” Andrew McConnell of Kansas City, Missouri, recalled his manager spitting “faggot” at him before he got sacked. CyCei Monet of Flint, Michigan said that after being repeatedly groped and rubbed by a manager, she reached her “breaking point” after he texted her a picture of his penis. It cost her $8.50 an hour to quit; many can’t afford to.
Although sexual harassment is rampant across all industries, systematic sexual degradation at fast food workplaces, a major employer of low-wage workers nationwide, ties into both economic and sexual coercion. Being desperately poor obviously renders workers exponentially more vulnerable to abuse. Kristi Maisenbach tried to challenge repeated workplace harassment at her Folsom, California, McDonald’s restaurant, and her manager repaid her by slashing her weekly hours by two-thirds. “When you’re barely making enough to get by,” she told The Huffington Post, “speaking up means risking your check, your next hot meal, your electricity bill.”
Workers aired more painful stories at a recent Fight for 15 rally near Times Square—once ground zero of New York’s sleaze industry, now home to “family-friendly” chain restaurants, where another sordid industry lurks behind the counter. Gaby, a soft-spoken teenager, spoke through a Spanish translator about working her first job at a fast food outlet in Washington Heights, working for $10.50 an hour under the leering gaze of a supervisor who regularly propositioned her. He “asked her sometimes to go back [to a part of the workplace] where there’s no cameras,” she recalled. Her complaints to the general manager went ignored. Her alleged abuser, her main supervisor, told her “if I didn’t do it, he was going to do something to retaliate, and he ended up taking me off the schedule,” effectively firing her after seven months. She said she never received training on how to handle workplace sexual harassment.