New York, NY – Hundreds of essential McDonald’s workers went on strike in 20 cities across the county this week, shutting down at least six outlets in an ongoing fight for better working conditions and pay during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the support of the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], Service Employees International Union [SEIU] and 10 other organizations, workers sent a letter to McDonald’s President Chris Kempczinski in Chicago demanding paid sick leave, paid family leave and paid medical leave.
Protests demanding a $15 minimum wage took place like Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles.
“We are disappointed by McDonald’s response to the COVID-19 crisis when it comes to workers’ safety and their families’ well being,” the workers said in the joint statement. “The emergency paid sick leave policy that has been adopted by McDonald’s applies to fewer than 10-percent of McDonald’s workers and fails to adequately protect the health of workers and their families, McDonald’s customers and our communities.”
“A majority of McDonald’s restaurants are actually franchised restaurants,” ACLU Liberty Division Deputy Director Nicole Regalado said. “Some franchise restaurants pay sick leave because of local and state law, so there are some restaurants that pay the base level for paid sick days, but even before the pandemic started that was not nearly enough.”
Corporate McDonald’s establishments have somewhat benefitted from the Families First Coronavirus Act, which will provide the benefits that workers in the neglected franchises are fighting for and be in effect through Dec. 31, 2020. However, there was confusion in those restaurants.
“McDonald’s first response to the COVID-19 crisis was to announce that it was going to have an emergency paid sick leave policy, but it only applied to corporate-run restaurants,” said Regalado. “But even in the fewer than 10-percent corporate-run restaurants instructions have not been clear and in cases of sickness the policy was not being implemented.”
Unless McDonald’s provides a corporate mandate that all establishments, corporate or not, meet the provisions of the Family First Coronavirus Act, the majority of franchisees will not put their workers first, according to Regalado.
Not only is their no corporate mandate in place to help sick workers stay at home if ill, but McDonald’s is also actively lobbying to exclude their franchise workers from benefitting from the federal act, according to the letter.
“It shouldn’t be up to the local and state governments to regulate this,” said Regalado. “McDonald’s has more than enough money to let workers have access to paid sick leave, paid family leave and paid medical leave.”
In 2019, McDonald’s net worth was $163 billion, according to R&P — an online site that provides the latest revenue and profit information from the tech, financial and business world.
McDonald’s also fought to have exemptions for medium-sized businesses with 500 or more workers and small businesses with 50 or less, which would be covered by the new act, according to Regalado.
“Based on the intel that we got — they were worried about cash flow even though there is a way for corporations to get reimbursed for providing emergency sick and family leave,” said Regalado. “There’s a payroll tax credit, but first they have to shell out the money to get reimbursed later. McDonald’s is saying it wouldn’t sustain its business for franchises if it were shelling out that money, but the reality is they could afford to do this on their own, and they are rejecting a government subsidy.”
Helping the workers in their efforts on the ground is SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, who spoke with workers from Tennessee, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, California and Missouri who were relating their experiences in a Zoom videoconference.
“I can’t tell you how outraged our two million members are that the world’s second-largest multinational corporation, McDonald’s, is not giving you the equipment that you need to keep yourself safe and that the customers that you are serving are healthy as well,” said Henry. “They have argued against paying you two weeks sick leave so that you can quarantine and keep yourself, co-workers and families safe, in this incredible time.”
McDonald’s shouldn’t be paying their workers “poverty wages,” according to Henry. Not only should employees have more in income, but they should also have hazard pay, COVID-testing and full healthcare.
“They could set the standard for 4 million workers who are serving fast food as part of this pandemic,” said Henry.
Bettie Douglas, an employee in Missouri was disheartened that workers had to strike to get PPE.
“We know McDonald’s won’t do the right thing unless we hold their feet to the fire,” said Douglas.
Douglas has been supporting the Fight for $15 Union for five years and will not give up on their initiative for workers like her to have better wages.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also supports the workers and found it unfortunate “how shaky the ground” was for them, especially for women, who make up the majority of employees.
According to McDonald’s own Gender Balance and Diversity page, women made up 54-percent of workers in the U.S. in 2019.
“It is time for bold reformative action that reshapes the way we work and the way we value working people,” said Sen. Gillibrand. “Eight in ten workers in America don’t have access to comprehensive paid leave, even after Congress passed an Emergency Paid Sick Leave law in March, [because] 75-percent of workers left out thanks to carve-outs from big businesses like McDonald’s.”