Last month, the National Labor Relations Board general counsel found McDonald’s Corp. to be a “joint-employer” alongside its franchisees. This legal decision could allow the corporation to be held responsible for the treatment and conditions of its franchisees’ workers and let workers unionize nationally across all stores.
It is common sense that McDonald’s should be held responsible for treatment of its workers. This is a victory for the fast-food workers movement that is fighting for a decent wage of $15 an hour, fair working conditions and the right to organize unions.
McDonald’s continues to challenge the notion it is responsible for its workers and plans to appeal the NLRB decision. However, McDonald’s and other fast-food franchisers understand the franchise model is designed to create a false barrier between the corporate entity and its workers. This allows the corporation to pay minimal wages while shifting the blame and responsibility for workers to franchisees.
Franchisers including McDonald’s have invested billions of dollars to build brands, structure franchise models, promote and sell products and establish customers across the world.
Given this, it would be ridiculous to believe corporations do not have direct control, or at least compelling influence, over the structure and operations of its franchisees. This control is needed by the corporation to protect and maintain a consistent brand and sell the same Big Mac coast to coast. This franchise model is a “godfatheresque” management style, where the corporations have all the money and power but utilize those lower on the chain (the franchise owners) to do the dirty work of keeping workers underpaid and under control.
The recent NLRB finding challenges this structure. It places accountability where it belongs, right at the top. Workers should be able to negotiate with, and hold accountable, corporations that are the ultimate beneficiaries of their labor. In this case, they are responsible for pay inequity at rates over 1,000 to 1 of compensation for CEOs vs. fast-food workers.
The franchise model hurts workers because it allows corporations to squeeze them dry while denying any responsibility. However, it also puts small franchise owners at a disadvantage and leaves them with little control over their own stores and livelihoods. Franchisees are squeezed out of their profits to pay rent, advertising and marketing costs and other mandatory franchise fees to the corporation.
Some franchise owners have spoken out against the bottom-barrel wages and absolute control McDonald’s exerts over its franchisees.
Kathryn Slater-Carter, owner of a McDonald’s franchise in Daly City, Calif., challenged the inability to offer health insurance and the low wages she was pressured by McDonald’s to pay. She worked with the California Legislature to pass a bill enabling greater rights of independent franchise owners, allowing them to control certain elements in their businesses without fear of corporate headquarters threatening to suspend their franchise.
In the “Fight For $15,” we are absolutely clear that fast-food corporations are determining how their franchisees operate. The corporations are responsible for the extremely low wages and the utilization of public welfare benefits to subsidize their work forces. This is why, from the outset, corporations and not franchisees have been the clear target for fast-food workers’ demands of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.
We celebrate this decision by the NLRB as a step in the right direction. The struggle for fair wages and respect for fast-food workers and all underpaid workers moves forward. Join us at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at 660 Boulevard NE, Atlanta, for the next ATL #FightFor15 worker rally.
Neil Sardana is organizing director for Atlanta Jobs with Justice.
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