NLRB to McDonald’s: You are responsible for your franchisees

Stephon Johnson | 8/7/2014, 12:32 p.m.

A recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board claims that McDonald’s had the ability to control employment decisions at franchised restaurants. For fast-food workers fighting for better wages, this is positive news.

The NLRB’s general counsel said last week that the company is considered a joint employer that exerts “substantial power” over the working conditions of its employees. The general counsel also found that McDonald’s holds such extensive influence over the business operations of its franchisees that individual operators have little autonomy when it comes to setting or controlling workplace conditions. In other words, McDonald’s is the employer. With dozens of charges of illegal conduct pending in almost 20 cities around the country, they can now be adjudicated using the new directive.

According to Micah Wissinger, an attorney at Levy Ratner who represents McDonald’s workers in New York City, this is only the beginning.

“McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,” said Wissinger in a statement. “The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.”

For close to two years, McDonald’s and other fast-food workers have held rallies, gone on strike and staged walkouts in support of higher wages and more benefits. They have called for a wage increase to $15 per hour and the right to form a union without fear of retaliation. Some of these companies have passed the buck onto the franchisees, saying they were in control, but the NLRB thinks otherwise.

Kendall Fells, organizing director of the group Fast Food Forward, said that McDonald’s has the power to change course for the better.

“As the federal government’s determination shows, McDonald’s clearly uses its vast powers to control franchisees in just about every way possible,” said Fells in a statement. “It’s time the company put those same powers to work to do something about the fact that its workers are living in poverty.”

Richard Eiker, who has worked at the same McDonald’s in Kansas City for 18 years, said that the day has come for management to stop pointing fingers.

“Now that the government has recognized what us workers have always know—that McDonald’s is the boss—maybe the company will stop making excuses for why we’re treated so poorly and pay us a wage we can live on,” said Eiker in a statement.