Victory for fast-food workers in the fight against unfair labor practices

Fast-food workers in America received much-deserved justice with a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that said McDonald’s could be held jointly liable for labor and wage violations by its franchise operators. The authorized complaint by the NLRB Office of the General Counsel comes after workers brought over 180 cases in the last 20 months against McDonald’s, accusing the company and its franchisees of unfair labor practices, including illegally firing, threatening or otherwise penalizing workers for their pro-labor activities.

As a result of their investigation, the NLRB found that because McDonald’s dictates the conditions of employment as a condition of their franchise agreements, and these conditions are at the root of the alleged unfair labor practices, that McDonald’s is a co-employer with the franchisees, which could hold the company responsible for actions taken at thousands of restaurants. Roughly 90% of the chain’s restaurants in the United States are franchise operations.

(AP Photo/file)

(AP Photo/file)

The cases filed with the NLRB grew out of the five one-day strikes demanding a $15 wage that fast-food workers conducted against McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants that began in November 2012. Over 100 workers complained to the Board, saying that they had been fired, had their hours cut or were otherwise punished for the protests.

The problem of wage theft is exploding across the nation, and enforcement agencies and courts are seeing more and more evidence of this problem. The New York Times reported this weekend that the U.S. Labor Department’s wage and hour division has uncovered nearly $1 billion in illegally unpaid wages since 2010. David Weil, the division’s director, noted that the victimized workers were disproportionately immigrants and that some companies have retaliated against workers who refused to comply with the theft.”You can’t threaten people to lose their jobs because they are asserting rights that go back 75 years,” he said. 

California Labor Commissioner Julie Su noted that wage theft “has spread to multiple industries across many sectors. It’s affected not just minimum-wage workers, but also middle-class workers.” 

It’s clear that too many employers across the country are gaining an unfair competitive advantage against their competitors by cheating their workers out of earned wages. The economic incentives that allow this to happen need to change, so that instead of allowing profits from this unfair competition, we instead recognize and reward the value of hard work and fair competition. We must ensure that people are fully compensated for their work – a basic fairness and fundamental American value. 

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