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McDonald’s workers go on national strike to oppose sexual harassment

Mcdonalds News
Forty percent of women in the fast-food industry report facing sexual harassment on the job. (Mike Mozart)

McDonald’s employees made history today, as cooks and cashiers in 10 cities across the country walked off the job to protest the company’s failure to address groping, propositions for sex, indecent exposure, and other inappropriate and illegal conduct in its stores. It was the first time in U.S. history that workers have engaged in a nationwide strike to combat sexual harassment, said organizers of the action.

“No one should be violated and harassed on the job,” said Barbara Johnson, an 18-year-old McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, in a statement released by strike organizers. “It’s sad we have to go on strike to make that point, but we won’t be quiet until McDonald’s listens to our demands and puts a stop to sexual harassment.” 

After participating in the strike, Johnson hand-delivered two complaints dealing with her personal experiences of sexual harassment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in hopes of pressing the company to change.

Johnson is hardly the first McDonald’s employee to file a sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC. In May, 10 women filed complaints in which they alleged they experienced abuse—only to be ignored, mocked, or retaliated against when they reported the misconduct to their supervisors. The women—and girls—who had made complaints were as young as 15. One of the May complainants, a 22-year-old named Tanya Harrell, said her managers teased her but took no action when she told them she had endured physical and sexual harassment at the hands of a co-worker. Similar complaints about sexual harassment were lodged against McDonald’s in 2016.

Both the legal action and the strike were organized by Fight for $15, a campaign to increase the hourly wage for low-income workers. Research indicates that the extensive sexual harassment in the food service industry is linked to economic insecurity of employees. According to a 2016 report published by the National Partnership for Women and Families, and other groups, “40 percent of women in the fast-food industry report facing sexual harassment on the job,” and “42 percent of women in fast-food who experience sexual harassment feel forced to accept it because they can’t afford to lose their job.”

Today’s action took place during lunchtime in 10 cities across the country: Chicago; Durham, North Carolina; Kansas City and St Louis, Missouri; Los Angeles; Miami; Milwaukee; New Orleans; Orlando, Florida; and San Francisco. Women carried signs reading “#MeToo McDonald’s” and “Strike Sexual Harassment,” and shared stories of the abuse they had experienced as restaurant employees, according to strike organizers.   

The last time American workers engaged in a local strike about sexual harassment was in 1912, according to Fight for $15, when garment workers at the Kalamazoo Corset Company walked off their jobs.  

“By walking off their jobs to call for an end to sexual harassment, McDonald’s workers echo the demands made by Kalamazoo garment workers in 1912,” Annelise Orleck, a professor of history at Dartmouth College and author of We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now, said in a statement released by Fight for $15 last week. She added that women across the globe, from Chicago to Bangladesh to Cambodia, have gone on strike in the previous year to protest gender-based violence in the workplace. 

“Together, these women are leading a revolution that may well change the game for women workers everywhere,” Orleck said.

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