Top NLRB Official: McDonald’s, Its Franchises Are Jointly Responsible For Labor Law-Breaking

WASHINGTON–In a decision that could help millions of low-paid fast food workers win better wages and the right to organize, National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Richard Griffin – its top enforcement official – ruled McDonald’s and its thousands of franchised restaurants nationwide are jointly responsible for labor conditions at the eateries.

Griffin’s announcement that McDonald’s is a “joint employer” with its franchise-holders drew instant screams from the fast food industry.  It means McDonald’s – and possibly other chains that feature franchises — can be held liable when an individual franchise owner breaks labor law, including law-breaking when their workers try to organize.

Griffin’s July 29 announcement came three days after 1,500 fast food workers from around the country met near McDonald’s headquarters in Elmhurst, Ill., and took the next step in their campaign for a $15 hourly living wage: To form a national union (see separate story).

Griffin said his office “investigated charges alleging McDonald’s franchisees and their franchisor, McDonald’s, USA, LLC, violated the rights of employees as a result of activities surrounding employee protests.”  Violations included illegal firings of pro-union workers..

His office filed labor law-breaking charges in 43 of the 181 cases against McDonald’s franchises, and 64 more are still under investigation.  In the 43, McDonald’s LLC “will be named as a respondent” along with its franchise-holders, if the two sides can’t settle, he said.

Recent complaints filed against McDonald’s came from worker-members of the national Fast Food Workers Organizing Committee or from the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.  One said a Chicago McDonald’s imposed coercive rules, another said a Philadelphia McDonald’s retaliated against workers through unilateral changes in employment conditions.

An Indianapolis McDonald’s illegally quizzed workers about unions,  tried to coerce them through threats and promises of benefits, illegally spied on them, unilaterally changed  employment conditions and imposed coercive rules.  Each complaint also named McDonald’s USA.  Fast Food Forward Organizing Director Kendall Fells told the New York Times that Griffin’s decision “shows McDonald’s clearly uses its vast powers to control franchisees in just about every way possible.”