And Now for Some Good News

This morning, amidst the gut-wrenching headlines about Gaza and the Ukraine, a teaser at the bottom of the page caught my eye: "McDonald’s Loses; Labor Wins." I did a triple-take. It is rare to see news like this on the front page of the New York Times.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that McDonalds, the corporation, is liable for the labor violations on the part of its franchise operators (they are jointly liable, to be more precise).

The Board was investigating hundreds of complaints from workers, most of which were infringements against the workers’ right to organize. In 2012 fast-food workers held five one-day strikes to demand a $15 per hour wage. Franchise operators retaliated against strike organizers and leaders with firings and reduced work hours. Workers then filed complaints with the NLRB.

Companies use subcontractors and temp agencies to free themselves of staffing headaches. This ruling could force them to be more accountable. There is case precedent for this decision: a 1982 federal appeals court said a company was to be considered a joint employer in situations where two or more employers exerted significant control over the same employees. At issue is what constitutes ‘significant control.’

Opponents of the ruling, like the National Restaurant Association argue that this changes the rules for all of fast food industry, with implications for other industries, and for small businesses as well. It goes against decades of established law.

They also got their digs in against the President.  “the ruling is “another example of the Obama Administration’s agenda against small businesses.” Another chestnut: “(the NLRB) is just a government agency that serves as an adjunct for organized labor.” [from David French, with the National Retail Federation].

Of course, they always bring in small business. As if McDonalds franchise owners were small businesses in the same way that my parents’ small town family-owned and operated jewelry store was.

McDonalds would have us believe that they are not in charge when it comes to their employees. They wash their hands of all responsibility. This ruling says, not so fast. As a lawyer in the case puts it: “The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple.”

There will be appeals. Depending on how those go, this case could wind up before SCOTUS. The forces arrayed to protect a system that gives cover to the puppet-masters in fast food and similar retail operations will come out swinging.

Meanwhile, the message for workers is organize, organize, organize!