Just days after advocacy groups filed more than two dozen new sexual harassment charges against the fast-food chain, a group of McDonald's workers from across the country protested in North Texas on Thursday, demanding better wages, better working conditions and the right to form a union.
Fight for $15, a national campaign that seeks a $15 federal minimum wage and union rights for low-wage workers, held a demonstration outside the company's annual shareholders meeting at the Grand Hyatt DFW Hotel at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. In 13 cities across the nation, McDonald's employees went on strike Thursday to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment complaints.
Before the protest, workers held a video town hall discussion with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who told those in the room and others watching online that their efforts were beginning to pay off, as a handful of state legislatures nationwide consider bills to raise their states' minimum wages.
"You are heroes and you are heroines," Sanders said.
A Democratic presidential hopeful, Sanders told workers that, if elected, he would seek to raise the federal minimum wage and ensure that every employee has the right to join a union. He pledged to push back against corporate greed and floated the idea of inviting McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook to an Oval Office meeting with workers.
"You guys are being exploited," he told the workers. "It is absolutely unconscionable that you are making, what, $8.50 an hour? You cannot live on $8.50 an hour."
The meeting comes at a time when McDonald's faces growing criticism for its handling of employee sexual harassment complaints. On Tuesday, Fight for $15, along with the ACLU and the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, announced the filing of 25 new sexual harassment claims against the company. The claims, which are a combination of lawsuits and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges, stem from incidents "in both corporate and franchise McDonald’s restaurants across 20 cities — including groping, indecent exposure, propositions for sex and lewd comments by supervisors — against workers as young as 16 years old," the group wrote in a news release.
Tanya Harrell, a McDonald's employee from Gretna, Louisiana, says her co-worker tried to rape her in a bathroom stall. In a statement, Harrell said the new charges show that the company isn't doing anything to fix the sexual harassment problem.
“For three years, we’ve been speaking out, filing charges and even going on strike to get McDonald’s to confront its sexual harassment problem,” Harrell said. “But these new charges show that nothing has changed. We cannot wait any longer for action. McDonald’s, it’s time to sit down with the workers who help make your $6 billion in profits possible so, together, we can stamp out harassment once and for all.”
Thursday's meeting marked the first time in the company's 64-year history that the annual meeting has been held outside of its headquarters city of Chicago, a fact that Adriana Alvarez, a McDonald's worker from Chicago, said is a sign the company is running from its employees.
Alvarez, 27, said sexual harassment is a persistent problem at McDonald's restaurants. She's heard lewd comments, and other workers have reported being groped by co-workers or managers, she said. She thinks the company needs to do more to stop it.
"We're there to work, not to be sexually abused," she said.
After the video town hall with Sanders, the group marched down to the entrance to the hotel's meeting rooms and presented a list of demands to a McDonald's representative. Then, they walked to the sidewalk in front of the hotel, where they held banners and chanted.
Bleu Rainer, a McDonald's employee from Tampa, Florida, stood in front of the group, leading chants. Rainer, 30, said workers are only looking for a seat at the corporate table. McDonald's employees make billions of dollars for the company each year, but the company doesn't pay its workers enough to live on, he said.
"We go to work day in and day out," he said, "and we make next to nothing."