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McDonald's a 'joint employer,' violated worker rights: NLRB

The National Labor Relations Board issued complaints against McDonald's franchisees and McDonald's USA, their franchisor, as joint employers on Friday.

The NLRB alleges that McDonald's USA and some franchisees violated workers' rights by "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."

A McDonald's restaurant with a "now hiring" sign, in Sarasota, Fla.
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
A McDonald's restaurant with a "now hiring" sign, in Sarasota, Fla.

Earlier this year, the NLRB said the fast-food giant be treated as a joint employer but had yet to issue a formal complaint naming McDonald's as such. The move is important because it sets a precedent that could open McDonald's corporate office up to liability stemming from wrongdoing or laws broken by its more than 2,500 franchisees.

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In a statement, a McDonald's spokeswoman said the board's actions "improperly and dramatically strike at the heart of the franchise system."

"McDonald's is disappointed with the Board's decision to overreach and move forward with these charges, and will contest the joint employer allegation as well as the unfair labor practice (ULP) charges in the proper forums," she added.

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Since November 2012, 86 charges have been found meritorious by the NLRB against McDonald's franchisees and McDonald's USA.

The allegations of unlawful conduct committed by the joint employers include "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," according to a NLRB release.

If hearings related to the charges do not result in a settlement, litigation will begin next March.