Striking McDonald’s workers: You have to ‘build your strength in numbers’

"We know that McDonald’s is the head of the snake."

People gather together to ask  the McDonald’s corporation to raise workers wages to a $15 minimum wage as well as demanding the right to a union on May 23, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The nation wide protest at McDonald’s was held on the day of the company’s shareholder meeting. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
People gather together to ask the McDonald’s corporation to raise workers wages to a $15 minimum wage as well as demanding the right to a union on May 23, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The nation wide protest at McDonald’s was held on the day of the company’s shareholder meeting. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

McDonald’s workers went on strike on Thursday in 13 cities for a $15 hourly pay and union rights for all workers at the chain. They’re working with the Fight for $15 movement and speaking up about sexual harassment and safety issues at their stores, following a new round of sexual harassment charges and lawsuits against McDonald’s this week.

McDonald’s has long argued that it is not liable for pay, hiring, and other decisions at franchised stores. But striking workers are demanding the corporation do something about problems at its chains and allow them to unionize.

On Tuesday, TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund announced that 25 women filed sexual harassment complaints against McDonald’s with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Fight for $15 organization, brought these charges and suits and the ACLU has provided legal support while TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund has given financial support.

McDonald’s has also yet to substantively increase wages, despite a recent announcement that it would stop lobbying against state and federal minimum wage hikes.


Terrence Wise, a McDonald’s worker who for years has organized for Fight for $15 in Kansas City, Missouri, said about half of 29 workers at his store are on strike. Wise said this fight is important because McDonald’s employs so many people.

“We know that McDonald’s is the head of the snake … We know that when we get McDonald’s to sit down and recognize our union and bring McDonald’s to the table, then it sets the standard for the whole industry,” Wise said.

Wise said his mother worked at Hardee’s for 30 years and at the end of her service there, didn’t have a pension, health care, or a 401(k). Wise himself said he has gone 18 years without a visit to a dentist or doctor.


“I watched as she worked but we got food stamps, had our lights cut off, we didn’t have food sometimes. Fast forward to me now, I have three little girls, my fiancé is a home health care worker. We’re two full-time working parents. We’ve been homeless before, we have had to rely on food stamps, and all these times while employed,” Wise said.

He explained that he asked for a raise many times but never received one — until he went on strike.

“After my first day on strike in Kansas City, the very next day I got a raise form my boss … Our demands were heard and it showed me that was the way to get anything done, whether it is in the workplace or ballot box. You have to come together and build your strength in numbers to make change.” Wise said.

Workers also face safety issues on the job, according to a National Employment Law Project report released on Tuesday. The report argues that McDonald’s is failing to provide employees a safe work environment due to its long hours of operation, which expose workers to violence, not equipping its stores consistently with violence hazard controls such as panic buttons, and not giving workers the training they need to protect themselves. An analysis of media coverage of violence at these stories shows there were at least 721 incidents of workplace violence across the country in a three-year period, which ended on April 15.

CREDIT: Fight for $15
CREDIT: Fight for $15

Wise said that in Kansas City, fryers would leak grease and burn people. The first aid kit at his store was empty and there were broken tiles on the floor. After workers began organizing, the workers received grease traps and tiles were replaced.


“We’re working for a billion dollar company like McDonald’s and not even having a first aid kit. We had to organize and demand that from the boss. But that is part of us needing a union so we can keep the workplace safe and keep First Aid stuff available and make our workplace equitable,” he said.

The strike coincides with McDonald’s annual shareholders meeting. Shareholders held their annual meeting in a hotel at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on Thursday instead of the Oak Brook, Illinois headquarters. In previous years, activists and workers held protests outside of its buildings. The change in location didn’t stop workers from getting as close as possible to the shareholder meeting to demonstrate.

Some women who said they experienced harassment on the job said they were retaliated against and received fewer work hours or were fired.

Brittany Hoyos, a 19-year-old who lives in Tucson, Arizona said she experienced harassment from her older shift manager when she was 16. She said he would unnecessarily touch her or brush against and send her inappropriate text messages about her appearance. One night he tried to kiss her and she rebuffed his advances. Afterward, the shift manager and her colleagues reportedly began calling her “whore,” “ho,” and “homewrecker.” After Hoyos and her parents spoke out against the behavior, her hours and her mother’s were cut, and she was demoted. Hoyos was eventually fired.

Kim Lawson, who worked at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, also faced sexual harassment. As part of a docuseries called Breaking the Silence, Lawson said of the harassment she experienced, “It continues to happen because it’s overlooked.”

Lawson, a single mother, said she doesn’t want her daughter to experience what she did.

“I don’t want her to ever be scared to stand up for herself,” she said in the docuseries.

Sharyn Tejani, director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress that although McDonald’s touts its trainings on preventing sexual harassment, these approaches are only as good as the enforcement of policies and buy-in from the people who work there. Tejani said McDonald’s needs to talk to its workers.

Tejani added that the corporation’s argument that it can’t control what happens at franchise-owned stores doesn’t hold water.

“I challenge anyone to walk into a McDonald’s, order the food, and tell me if it is a corporate-owned McDonald’s or a franchise-owned McDonald’s. The food tastes exactly the same regardless of the type of ownership from McDonald’s and it is tied to McDonald’s because it is the same no matter where you go because so much of what happens there is driven by what corporate McDonald’s said has to happen,” Tejani said. “The fact that they care about the pickles that go on the hamburgers, but they don’t care about the people? McDonald’s could have the same kind of control when it comes to sex harassment in its franchised workplaces. It could require as part of the franchise agreement that the people who own the franchise could do certain things when it comes to sex harassment, but they’re deciding not to.”

Tejani said that workers are suffering both an economic and emotional cost from sexual harassment, since many workers have experienced depression and anxiety as a result of their harassment along with employment termination.

Several presidential candidates picketed with workers on Thursday, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Julián Castro (D), former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Bill de Blasio (D), mayor of New York. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) did a virtual town hall meeting with Dallas workers who were outside the McDonald’s shareholders meeting.

Sanders said workers have to fight for higher wages “but we’re also going to make sure women do not make 80 cents on the dollar.”

“When we stand together and demand an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1%, we can transform this country and make sure that every man, woman, and child in America has a decent standard of living and on the job is treated with dignity,” he said. “And that is what I am fighting to do.”