A woman participating in yesterday's McDonald's strike wears a baseball hat looks directly at the camera. There is a piece of blue tape over her mouth that says #MeToo. She has a blue handprint painted on the left side of her face.

Workers Tell McDonald’s #TimesUp

Yesterday, McDonald’s workers from 10 cities across the U.S. went on strike to demand the company address pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace.  

Organized by the Fight for $15, a national campaign working to achieve a $15 minimum wage for all workers and the right to a union, the strike is a followup to the 10 sexual harassment complaints workers have filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since May, with the help of the TimesUp Legal Defense Fund. The complaints describe horrifying sexual harassment and assault by coworkers and managers.

One woman from Louisiana was groped repeatedly by a coworker and belittled by management when she tried to report it: one manager told her that it was “childish” to report sexual harassment. Another worker from Chicago was harassed by managers and later had her shifts cut in retaliation for reporting.

Many of the women who filed EEOC complaints led the strike efforts through the Women’s Committees of Fight for $15. Strike demands include that McDonald’s strengthen and enforce its zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment, properly train managers and staff, and form a committee that involves workers and women’s rights groups to address sexual harassment at the company and “chart a path forward to make sure nobody who works for McDonald’s faces sexual harassment as part of the job.”

While McDonald’s made $5.4 billion dollars in profits last year, the average employee makes $8.25 an hour, below the federal poverty level. McDonald’s tells its workers to go on food stamps to supplement their abysmal wages. They have responded to sexual harassment complaints with similar indifference. McDonald’s only response to this strike and to 15 McDonald’s workers who filed sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC in 2016 was to hire the Seyfarth Shaw LLP for their workplace sexual harassment training: the same law firm that’s defending Harvey Weinstein.

As a representative from the Fight for $15 told me, “They [McDonald's] have the power to set a new standard, and they’re not interested in doing so.”

Women make up the vast majority of fast food workers and other low-wage workers (defined as those who make less than $15 an hour). Most are women of color and immigrant women. They do physically and mentally demanding work for long hours and little pay, and deal with schedule instability, wage theft, and unsafe labor conditions.

They also bear the brunt of sexual harassment and racism in the workplace, with little recourse. Forty percent of women fast food workers reported that they were sexually harassed at work: and nearly half said they felt unable to respond because of the risk of losing their job. That fear is not unfounded —  many of the women who filed EEOC complaints against McDonald’s described being fired or denied shifts for speaking out.

According to Fight for $15, the McDonald’s workers’ strike is the first anti-sexual harassment strike in over a hundred years. But it’s not the first time that McDonald’s workers have used direct action to demand safe working conditions and fair pay. Strikes are an essential tool for low-wage women workers like domestic, childcare, and home-care workers to demand a living wage and an environment free from harassment.  

Even though women workers in fast food and other industries are harassed on the job and demeaned as “unskilled laborers,” the economy cannot function without them. A strike is a way to assert that their labor is essential and that they deserve to work with dignity.

Image credit: The Guardian

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, cat parent, and LGBTQ person living in Boston, MA. At Feministing, Jess writes about the intersection of state and interpersonal violence, LGBTQ communities and radical activism. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, cat parent, and LGBTQ person living in Boston, MA. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

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