Mcdonald’s goes face to face with labor regulators

McDonald’s and the National Labor Relations Board will finally go head-to-head in court on Monday as the fast-food company faces long-standing allegations that it violated employee rights beneath the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB began filing charges against McDonald’s in Nov. 2012, accusing McDonald’s and numerous its local franchises of violating workers’ rights in its response to protests for a union, better wages, treatment and conditions.

In Dec. 2014, the board determined 86 cases were worth investigation. Eventually, the board found 43 cases had merit.

Regulator Names McDonald’s a ‘Joint Employer’

In July 2014, the NLRB stated that McDonald’s could possibly be considered a joint employer, meaning it may be directly involved — and for that reason responsible for — the control and supervision of employee activity at some of its franchised locations.

Historically, McDonald’s wouldn’t normally be held responsible for employee-related decisions created by its franchisees. At this time, franchised locations constitute about 80 percent of its global presence.

McDonald’s has continued to contest its status as a joint employer, arguing that it can’t be held in charge of the actions of independent franchisees. The business did not react to requests for comment.

As the NLRB’s directive applied and then a small number of cases linked to McDonald’s, it sent a note to franchises everywhere a similar dynamic could end up being the norm. The move came on the heels of the NLRB’s case against Browning-Ferris Industries, which led to loosened requirements for who can be viewed as a boss under labor law. The implication is that franchisees and their workers could also have significantly more bargaining power.

As the franchising world fears a joint employer precedent will destroy the franchise model as we realize it, others are optimistic. “It generally does not spell doom,” Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project, said in a press call Thursday. “Strong joint employment can help not merely workers and smaller businesses to create ends meet, it could even the playing field for true mom-and-pop businesses.”

The chance of a joint employer standard sparked debate in Congress, with Republican lawmakers wanting to block it from happening.

Court proceedings will start on Monday in NY, then Chicago and LA to determine if McDonald’s can in fact certainly be a joint employer and if violations did occur at varying franchises.

It’s expected on the first day of trial the NLRB’s general counsel can make an opening statement that addresses the technical issues of the case and any possible motions. It’s also possible that executives from McDonald’s will be introduced to testify.

It’s likely McDonald’s will seek to keep a few of the events of the trial private since a few of the documents involved are confidential, says David Dean of lawyer James & Hoffman, counsel to fast-food workers.

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