Over the past few years, a word that has become a favorite of conservatives is overreaching that in their mind is an African American President doing the job he was elected to do. The word is also a conservative favorite to describe any federal agency doing the job it was created for such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or more recently the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Republicans want those agencies eliminated from existence because they protect the people; instead of corporate profits which is just one reason Republicans hate regulatory agencies. As an aside, Republicans never claim they overreach by imposing religion on the people, but one cannot mention that without violating the mortal sin of criticizing the religious right.
On Friday, the NLRB was accused of extreme overreach because it ruled that fast-food giant McDonald’s violated the rights of its employees who violated a Republican corporate mortal sin; seeking better pay and working conditions. The NRLB’s job is resolving employee-management disputes in the private sector, but as is usually the case, McDonald’s and Republicans accused the federal agency of politically-based overreach for investigating valid worker complaints that McDonald’s violated labor laws.
After receiving hundreds of complaints from McDonald’s employees, the NLRB launched an investigation and found that McDonald’s, through its franchise relationship, resources, and technology, “engages in sufficient control over its franchisees’ operations, beyond protection of the brand, to make it a putative joint employer with franchisees sharing liability for violations” of labor law the agency enforces. The employee complaints were from around the nation and not, as McDonald’s asserts, from individual businesses and proved the NRLB’s point by defending the corporate position on employee relations.
McDonald’s corporate office claimed it was well within its corporate right to “defend itself” from an attack on its business by employees around the nation who had the temerity to seek better wages and working conditions. The company justified the corporate practice of “summary firings, cutting hours, threats, surveillance, and discriminatory discipline” against workers to teach them a lesson that exercising their legal right to ask for a wage increase would not go unpunished. The company also said it had no control over individual franchises in major and small cities nationwide engaging in concerted “coercive conduct” against employees exercising their protected and legal activity.
The NRLB said that since last year, it received 181 complaints against McDonald’s, not individual franchises, and found clear cut and universal unlawful conduct by the company in 86 cases proving that McDonald’s does control individual franchisees as a “joint employers” of its “fast food workforce.” In other words, “corporate” McDonald’s “wields extensive influence over business and employment operations and is effectively the top boss.” One of the law firms bringing the case before the NRLB on behalf of McDonald’s employees in New York City, Micah Wissinger, said, “McDonald’s and its corporate lobbyists continue to claim the company has no responsibility for, or to, workers at any of its restaurants, but today’s (NLRB) complaint underscores the obvious fact that McDonald’s (Corp) is the boss.”
The senior Vice President for the National Retail federation, David French, called the NLRB’s position and complaint against McDonald’s “in conflict with reality.” His assertion is that a franchise does a better job of managing a local operation because the franchisee is “invested” in the “company process.” It is why every McDonalds employee in the nation wears the same “uniform,” is paid by “McDonald’s and not the franchise owner (i.e. Joe Smith), and every McDonald’s restaurant makes each menu item exactly according to company standards and with corporate-provided materials.
In a statement released by the McDonald’s corporation, the company said the NLRB complaints “improperly and dramatically strike at the heart of the franchise system and represented overreach by the federal agency.” They also promised to “contest the joint employer allegation as well as the unfair labor practice charges in the proper forums,” and said individual restaurants will contest the charges as well. If the “corporation” has no control over “individual franchises, then why would it have to contest the unfair labor practice charges if they (labor practices) were not corporate policy?
McDonald’s called for, and received, support from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, International Franchise Association, and several other trade groups to demand that the media join them in voicing opposition to the NRLB complaints. The groups’ consensus statement is that if a corporation like McDonald’s is “allowed to be treated” as a joint employer by the federal agency, then the company will be liable for McDonald’s unfair labor practices and be vulnerable to employees supported by fair-practice labor groups seeking better pay and working conditions for underpaid workers.
Conservatives are portraying the NRLB as President Obama’s weapon to attack McDonald’s USA and give underpaid, poverty-wage workers a victory after “the company punished employees for legally protesting for better wages.” Republicans claim when “Obama filed 13 legal complaints against McDonalds for 78 instances in which it violated federal labor law by punishing workers for taking part in fast food protests,” it was a “significant victory for fast-food demonstrators.” No, a significant victory would have been McDonald’s raising wages for the workers and relieving American taxpayers of their burden of providing food stamps and healthcare for McDonald’s underpaid workforce.
President Obama did not file the 181 complaints with the NLRB against McDonald’s for retaliating against legal worker protests by firing them or cutting their hours; McDonald’s employees did. President Obama did not file 13 legal complaints against McDonald’s for firing, reducing hours, spying, threatening, or disciplining workers for a legal activity; the NLRB did. What President Obama has spent the past three years doing is begging, cajoling, and attempting to pressure Congress into raising the minimum wage, and if Republicans had an iota of regard for underpaid workers they would raise the minimum wage and solve three problems at once. End McDonald’s workers’ need to protest for better wages, end McDonald’s illegal retaliation against its employees, and end the NLRB’s need to file complaints against McDonald’s.