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  • The NLRB Not ‘Lovin’ McDonald’s Employment Practices

    The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), a federal agency that resolves employee-management disputes in the private sector, has accused McDonald’s and some franchise owners of violating workers’ rights by retaliating against them for taking part in fast food protests.

    Several complaints filed by the NLRB’s general counsel’s office allege that McDonald’s and franchise owners subjected workers to discriminatory discipline for participating in nationwide protests aimed at raising pay in the fast food industry.   The government labor watchdog contends that restaurant owners reduced hours and discharged some employees who took part in the movement.  The chain also engaged in other coercive conduct against its workers, including surveillance, interrogations and restricting employee’s ability to communicate with union representatives.

    Over the past two years, employees at McDonald’s and other fast-food outlets in cities across the nation, have been engaging in brief strikes while calling for an increase in the minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $15.00 an hour and the right to unionize.  In response, this past year, several states and cities have increased the minimum wage.

    The complaints stem from 291 labor violations charges filed since November 2012, when the fast-food rallies began.  The NLRB’s general counsel found merit in 86 of the 291 cases filed throughout the country.

    In the complaints, the NLRB has deemed McDonald’s a “joint-employer,” with franchisees at nearly 14,000 U.S. restaurants, delivering a big coup to unions.  The agency asserts that McDonald’s and its franchisees are joint-employers of the fast-food workers, because the company wields extensive influence over the business operations of its franchisees, thus, effectively acting as the top boss.

    By naming McDonald’s along with its franchisees as violators, the agency also strikes at the heart of the company’s franchise model.  If successful, the NLRB could disrupt many longtime practices in not only the fast-food industry – but many industries – and pave the path for unionizing fast-food joints nationwide.

    McDonald’s has vowed to contest the joint-employer allegation as well as the unfair labor practices charges.

    The complaints are an initial step in what is likely to be a lengthy legal battle.  The trial is set to begin in March 2015, before an administrative law judge who will determine if McDonald’s can be held liable under the National Labor Relations Act.

    Be sure to check back for an update regarding the administrative judge’s decision which is sure to have wide-ranging effects.  If you or your institution has any questions regarding employment litigation issues, please contact Cynthia A. Augello at caugello@cullenanddykman.com  or at (516) 357-3753.

    This post was written with Dina Demosthenous, an Associate at the Firm.