McDonald's Just Took Another Big Blow as Fast Food Protests Gain Momentum

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency of the US government charged with investigating and remedying unfair labor practices. It recently took on a formidable new opponent by filing a complaint against McDonalds USA and its franchisees, which have come under national scrutiny for dismally low worker pay, unfriendly employment conditions, and their employees' reliance on public assistance programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.

Low pay at McDonald's

Because of their low wages, McDonald's employees alone receive a total of $1.2 billion in public assistance benefits annually, almost twice the amount of its competitor Yum! Brands, which owns Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC, according to the National Employment Law Project.

public assistance nelp

As attn: has reported previously, thousands of fast food employees have united across the country in recent weeks to fight for a $15-dollar wage and the right to form a union. McDonald's, the largest of all fast food chains, has been a focal point of the campaign. We interviewed one worker, Jermere Calhoun (aged 30), who powerfully described his struggle to make ends meet as a cashier:

It's very hard to live on this salary. You pretty much know that you start in the red. As soon as I get my check, I already know that it's not enough. So I have to take care of what's the most pressing matter at that time and then think of ways to fill that financial void. I have no personal money. I have a four-month-old baby, and I'm also married. So there's like no personal money for small things. Like going to Starbucks to get a grande latte. Not happening. Those type of things. The most pressing things are having food in the house, diapers, that stuff. I barely have enough to get those -- I have to ask for help from friends, family, and public assistance to even cover those basics. As of right now, I'm not getting food assistance, but, over the course of my time working with McDonald's, I have had to ask for it.

The pushback against organizing

Fast food workers like Jermere have also faced considerable pushback for speaking out. Managers have moved striking workers off the schedule, given them unpredictable hours, and even mocked them for fighting for better wages. 

As a result, the NLRB's complaint compiled many of these grievances, alleging that McDonald’s "violated the rights of employees working at McDonald’s restaurants at various locations around the country by, among other things, making statements and taking actions against them for engaging in activities aimed at improving their wages and working conditions, including participating in nationwide fast food worker protests about their terms and conditions of employment during the past two years."

The complaint also stated that franchise owners and McDonald's corporate headquarters colluded to give "discriminatory discipline, reductions in hours, discharges, and other coercive conduct directed at employees in response to union and protected concerted activity, including threats, surveillance, interrogations, promises of benefit, and overbroad restrictions on communicating with union representatives or with other employees about unions and the employees’ terms and conditions of employment."

In America, it is illegal to intimidate workers for attempting to form a union or bargain collectively for better wages. 

McDonald's has responded by saying it will vigorously contest the charges of unfair labor practice.

"The National Labor Relations Board's actions today improperly and dramatically strike at the heart of the franchise system — a system that creates economic opportunity, jobs and income for thousands of business owners and their employees across the country," the company wrote in a statement last week.

If you want to learn more about the Fight For $15, watch this video: