Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘HERE’

#MeToo Hits Fast Food: Why McDonald’s Workers Are Out on a Historic Strike Today

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Workers at McDonald’s are set to walk out of work today in ten U.S. cities: Chicago, St. Louis, Durham, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando and San Francisco.

While a string of fast food strikes has hit chains in recent years, this time workers aren’t walking out for higher wages, but for respect and freedom from harassment in an industry known for rampant abuse.

In the non-unionized fast food industry, marked by high turnover, low wages, and poor to non-existent benefits, sexual harassment is endemic. A recent study of fast food restaurants such as Taco Bell and McDonald’s found that 40 percent of workers reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. A full 60 percent of the women who reported multiple occurrences of harassment said they felt pressure to accept the abuse because they could not afford to quit their job.

McDonald’s has faced a slew of lawsuits related to sexual harassment in recent years. In October 2016, Fight for $15, the group advocating for minimum-wage increases in the service sector, filed 15 sexual harassment claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the McDonalds corporation and franchisees of failing to protect—and sometimes retaliating against—workers reporting harassment.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, an organization supporting the striking workers, McDonald’s management routinely “initiated or disregarded” instances of sexual harassment. Among the incidents reported by the Center: A 15-year-old cashier in St. Louis who was asked by an older male employee: “Have you ever had white chocolate inside you?” When the 15-year-old reported the harassment to her manager, she was told, “you will never win that battle.” In New Orleans, a female worker complained about a co-worker groping her, to which her manager responded that she should “take it to the next level” with him. This same worker also endured an attempted sexual assault, which she did not report because of her past experiences.

“By funding the legal representation in these cases, we hope to help ensure that these charges will be a catalyst for significant change,” Sharyn Tejani, Director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. “Few women working in low-wage jobs have the means or the financial security to challenge sexual harassment. As shown by these charges and thousands of intakes we have received at the Fund from women in every industry, those who report their abuse are often fired, demoted or mocked—and since nothing is done to stop the harassment, nothing changes.”

The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is the latest example of the #MeToo movement’s solidarity with low-wage workers. The Fund, which arose as a response to the sexual harassment faced by women in Hollywood, has now amassed over 200 volunteer lawyers, and has pledged to support “the factory worker, the waitress, the teacher, the office worker.” The organization was also led to this cross-class alliance in part by expressions of solidarity from workers across sectors, including a letter signed by 700,000 female farmworkers associated with the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, and a 2017 “Take Back the Workplace” march in Los Angeles.

The strike is historic. While labor organizing campaigns have often made sexual harassment a focal point, this strike marks the first multi-state action devoted solely to the issue. 

Workers organizing against sexual harassment at McDonald’s can draw from a long tradition. In the 1830s, one of the first labor struggles in the early phases of American industrialization centered around addressing the sexual harassment and assault faced by female mill workers in Lowell, Massachusetts.

In one of the first efforts to organize workers at a restaurant chain, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) launched a six-year campaign during the 1960s to organize Playboy Bunnies. The campaign centered around combating the sexist workplace of the Playboy Clubs, an environment rooted in Hugh Hefner’s ethos that “women should be obscene and not heard.”

In the book Feminism Unfinished, Dorothy Sue Cobble writes that tenacious HERE organizer Myra Wolfgang told reporters the Bunnies would “bite back” against Playboy’s sexist working conditions.  And that’s just what they did. According to Cobble, management ultimately agreed to a “national contract promising to pay wages to Bunnies (previously the women relied solely on tips) and allow Bunnies more discretion over uniform design, customer interactions, and company appearance standards.”

While historically unions have (albeit sometimes unsuccessfully) been a bulwark against sexual harassment, fast-food empires like McDonald’s have always been closed off to unions. Without the protection of a union, fast food workers are particularly vulnerable to harassment. But, according to sexual harassment expert Lin Farley, the equation can also be reversed: Harassment can be a tool to prevent unionization and collective worker struggle. “You have fast-food managers systematically using sexual harassment to keep turnover high, so they don’t have to unionize, they don’t have to give higher wages,” Farley told On the Media.

That might be changing, however. With a more class-conscious #MeToo movement, a wave of militant teachers’ strikes, anti-sexual harassment campaigns and strikes in the majority female hotel industry, it’s clear that women are fed up with abuse in the workplace. The McDonald’s strike shows that this increased organizing may soon translate into more wins for labor in the most exploited sectors like the fast food industry, where class struggle is now on the menu.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachel Johnson is a writer based in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in U.S. history from Northwestern University.

From Civil War to Labor Vision

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Amy DeanTo the outside world, hearing that unions are fighting amongst themselves does not seem like anything new. Sadly, that’s what a lot of people expect from the labor movement. But the civil war between SEIU and UNITE HERE was a particularly painful internal dispute. It created a rift between two of the most dynamic organizations in organized labor and limited the ability of the entire movement to address critical challenges facing the American economy over the past year and a half.

America is a country of immigrants. The unions at the core of the recent dispute, the former UNITE and HERE, are each deeply rooted in the dreams of immigrant workers to create better lives for themselves, their co-workers, and their families. Organized labor in the United States has always grown with the newest wave of immigrants to our country. Moreover, the labor movement has been the most important institution, bar none, in allowing those who are newly coming to America to enter into the economic mainstream of their communities. It is central to our mission, and the continuing importance of this goal far surpasses any internal disagreements we may have within organized labor. Even while the combination of the two organizations, UNITE and HERE, did not last, the labor movement as a whole should reaffirm the broader principles that inspired the merger.

The immigrants who organized the textile and apparel sector a century ago—immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe, like my grandparents—believed that if working people were going to have strong institutions that could go toe-to-toe with employers, they needed solid infrastructure. So they founded trade unions, and they fashioned institutions like the Amalgamated Bank—which today is a significant asset that was a point of contention in labor’s family feud. We must remember that these institutions are not prizes to be divvied up. They are embodiments of the hard work and foresight of previous generations, who left them so that their children and future generations of working immigrants could create better lives for themselves.

Family feuds are painful. They rip at the very fabric of an institution. Likewise, internal disputes within the labor movement can be deeply harmful, eroding the foundations of organizations that we have worked so hard to build. Like in a family, each side in a dispute believes that it is right. However, within the family, the imperative to resolve a dispute and to mend wounds often outweighs the particulars of any given disagreement. The damage an internal fight can cause is so profound that sometimes being right is not enough.

For this reason, the announcement of a settlement between SEIU and UNITE HERE represents an important moment for the entire labor movement. Going forward, we need to put our unifying mission ahead of any disagreements that divide us.

Today, we face a sea of opponents ready to defame and defeat all unions. The only side that wins when we don’t work hard to put our differences behind us is the side of organized money. When they see us divided, the big corporations and the Glenn Becks of the world laugh all the way to the bank. Every family has its internal disputes. But the labor movement doesn’t have the luxury of fighting against itself any longer

About This Author: Amy B. Dean served as President of the South Bay AFL-CIO in Silicon Valley from 1992-2003 and chaired AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s committee on the future direction of labor strategy at the regional level. She is co-author, with David B. Reynolds, of A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.

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