McDonald’s Corporation on the hook

McDonald’s NLRB joint employer ruling

Yesterday’s ruling gives litigants and activists alike a bigger target, and a big boost for fast-food workers’ rights everywhere. 

We like to catalog progress when we see it.

Flickr/creative commons

Flickr/creative commons

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finally came to its senses by ruling that McDonald’s Corporation could no longer avoid complaints from its workers by asserting that they were not responsible for what goes on in their franchised stores, the vast majority of its 14,000 restaurants. This single ruling gives renewed hope and power to dozens of court cases to end unfair labor practices, and to fast-food workers everywhere demanding higher hourly wages.

[C]ompanies have sought to distance themselves from the pay protests by saying they don’t determine wages at its franchised locations.

Besides low wages, McDonald’s employees are imposed on in so many inhumane ways, such as showing up on time only to be asked to wait around on site before clocking in (and being paid) so the restaurant can maintain the company’s closely monitored ratio of labor costs as a percentage of sales.

Activists and labor organizers have always believed that these companies must be accountable because it controls every aspect of how the restaurants are run and how their employees are trained. Now the NLRB agrees with the workers. From now on McDonald’s and other fast-food companies with franchises, such as KFC, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, will be fully liable for all of its management practices.  

Heather Smedstad, senior vice president of human resources for McDonald’s USA, said in a phone interview that the company has never been determined to be a joint employer in the past and that it would fight the decision by the labor board.

“This is such a radical departure that it should be a concern to business men and women across the country,” she said.


The International Franchise Association also opposes the NLRB ruling, focusing on municipalities that go ahead and enact higher minimum wages (for example, Seattle’s $15.15/hour) and how this hurts these “small businesses.”

Conservative lawmakers, who haven’t allowed a rise in the minimum wage for 5 years, still contend that the market should decide wages and link them to productivity. They have a right to this opinion but not the facts: if wages had been linked to productivity for the last 20 years, the minimum wage would be not $8, not $10, not $15, but $22/hour. Productivity has steadily risen, as have corporate profits, but workers haven’t benefited.

Taxpayers have been bearing the burden of these sub-standard wages because those at the bottom of the pay scale use more government resources, like food stamps, to make ends meet. That means that taxpayers like you and me are subsidizing big companies and complicit in keeping these wages so low.

Not so ironically, minimum wage hikes actually raise the number of jobs created throughout the community because higher wages are spent immediately on necessities and stimulate the entire local economy.

Minimum wage workers rights throughout the country deserve this ruling from the NLRB which protects them from draconian labor practices and assures every worker is getting a living wage.