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NLRB Says McDonald’s Retaliated Against Workers for Speaking Out

Photo by Cathy Sherwin

McDonald’s and several of its franchisees have retaliated against workers who have taken part in the series of fast-food worker protests, according to complaints filed Friday by National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Office of the General Counsel.

In a statement about the 13 complaints that involve 78 charges, the NLRB says:

McDonald’s franchisees and/or their franchisor, McDonald’s USA, LLC, occurring in more than one, and often multiple, locations around the country include:  discriminatory discipline, reductions in hours, discharges, and other coercive conduct directed at employees in response to union and protected concerted activity, including threats, surveillance, interrogations, promises of benefit, and overbroad restrictions on communicating with union representatives or with other employees about unions and the employees’ terms and conditions of employment.

If settlements are not reached by March 30, NLRB administrative law judges will begin hearing the cases at several NLRB regional offices.  

More information, including a link to a list of cases involved, is available on

Historically, McDonald's has claimed it has no authority over wages or complaints of workers' rights violations at its franchise locations because that is up to the individual owners, but the NLRB general counsel determined McDonald's could be liable as a joint employer in these kinds of situations. 

When NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin announced in August he had authorized issuing charges against both McDonald’s and the franchisees, AFL-CIO Legal Counsel Sarah Fox said that even though the case is specific to McDonald’s, the action was “pretty significant” in the way companies that franchise their operations could be held accountable for the working conditions and wages at the franchise locations.       

The joint employer doctrine, she says, can be applied not only to fast-food franchises and franchise arrangements in other industries, but also to other practices companies use to avoid directly employing their workers, such as subcontracting, outsourcing and using temporary employment agencies.

Companies are increasingly using these kinds of arrangements to distance themselves from their workers and shield themselves from liability as employers. These are the devices they use so that they can get the benefit of the work the employees do, but say, 'I'm not responsible' for unfair labor practices, health and safety violations, paying proper employment taxes or complying with other legal responsibilities of an employer.

We’ll keep you posted.

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