Yesterday The Nation published a very, very long and detailed investigation into the culture of sexual harassment at McDonald’s. Reporter Bryce Covert talked to women from all over the country who shared stories of how their coworkers at McDonald’s had said disgusting things to them, rubbed against them, groped them, stalked them, exposed themselves to them, and threatened them with their jobs if they complained. The lawyer who represents the women describes it as “a systemic problem.”
Why does this matter? Well, McDonald’s employs 800,000 people and is one of the world’s most visible fast-food brands. What McDonald’s does affects a lot of people. And, apparently, it has no effective system in place to handle sexual harassment complaints internally. (There are policies in place, but employees say they are not helpful and only corporate restaurants are required to enforce them; independently owned franchises are not.) As Covert writes, “Given this visibility and clout, it might be expected that McDonald’s would exercise a certain measure of corporate responsibility and public accountability if its employees are put in harm’s way. But that is not what has happened.” Instead, an independent survey of 782 current and former female nonmanagerial employees conducted this past April showed that 75% of them had experienced sexual harassment at work, often several forms at once: “Half were subjected to sexual comments; a third were touched, groped, or fondled; and 12 percent were sexually assaulted or raped. Many experienced these things multiple times.” In the fast food industry in general, 40% of female workers have reported harassment.
The women who complained faced retribution: they were given the worst jobs and fewer hours, and many still had to work in close quarters with their harassers. Several of the women ended up quitting their jobs. Others rearranged their schedules, sometimes working fewer hours, so that they wouldn’t have to share a shift with their harassers. They suffered a loss of income. One woman’s family broke up under the financial strain.
The women have been fighting back. They’ve filed lawsuits and EEOC complaints, and at the end of 2018, McDonald’s workers in 10 cities went on strike in protest of sexual harassment. But McDonald’s has been able to dodge the complaints by claiming that, since just 7% of locations are corporate-owned, it shouldn’t be responsible for franchises. The women’s lawyers have argued that McDonald’s and the franchises should be considered joint employers. But it’s going to be a long fight.
This is a very long read. But it’s an important and thoroughly reported one, and very much worth reading if you want to know about what happens behind the golden arches.