NEW YORK, N.Y. – McDonald’s customers stopping in for a Big Mac on the eve of Tax Day may be greeted by demonstrators calling for pay of $15 an hour and a union.
Labour organizers say they’re planning another day of strikes and protests exclusively targeting McDonald’s stores in dozens of cities on April 14, following similar demonstrations outside a variety of fast-food restaurants a year ago.
The move is intended to build on a campaign to lift wages and revitalize union enrolment by spotlighting working conditions at the world’s biggest hamburger chain. Already, a wave of demonstrations that began in New York City in late 2012 has made low pay a major political issue and helped spur the passage of higher local minimum wages around the country.
The “Fight for $15” campaign is being backed by the Service Employees International Union, whose members include nursing home workers and janitors who stand to benefit when the wage floor is raised. Although McDonald’s has been a primary target, organizers have expanded the campaign in hopes of mobilizing new swaths of workers including adjunct professors and airport workers.
For April 14, organizers say they’re focusing on McDonald’s because of its size and ability to influence pay practices throughout the economy.
“When McDonald’s starts to behave the right way, other companies are going to behave the right way,” said Kendall Fells, organizing director for the Fight for $15.
A McDonald’s representative, Lisa McComb, said restaurants will remain open and “focus on providing an exceptional experience for our customers.” She said McDonald’s provides employees with “lifelong skills, opportunities for advancement and education assistance.”
Turnout for the demonstrations has varied around the country in the past, but has generally grown with each successive protest. In New York, crowds typically chant and beat drums outside a McDonald’s for about a half hour or briefly flood into stores before moving to another location. The actions are apparently having an impact on stores.
In court earlier this month, a lawyer for McDonald’s franchisees in New York described the pressure his clients felt from the “onslaught of investigations and protests” brought on by organizers in recent years, with one franchisee even selling a store as a result. He described franchisees as “collateral damage” in the fight between McDonald’s and organizers.
About 90 per cent of the more than 14,000 McDonald’s stores in the U.S. are run by franchisees.
The comments were made in opening statements for a trial stemming from unfair labour practice cases filed with the National Labor Relations Board, with organizers saying workers suffered retaliation for participating in strikes and demonstrations. The trial could for the first time determine that McDonald’s is a “joint employer” for employees at franchised locations.
The push to get McDonald’s Corp. recognized as a joint employer has been a key strategy in the campaign because it would theoretically give organizers a centralized target to negotiate with, rather having to deal with thousands of different franchisees. But even without such a ruling, organizers think ongoing pressure from the protests and a series of legal actions at home and abroad could bring McDonald’s to the bargaining table.
Scott Courtney, national organizing director for the SEIU, said he thinks it’s possible that McDonald’s might consider recognition of a workers organization in the next couple of years, which could prompt Burger King and Wendy’s to do the same with their workers.
For now, Courtney said the campaign’s focus is on energizing the more than 64 million people in the country who earn less than $15 an hour, and mobilizing them into a political force that drives change on wages.
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