McDonald's employees stage first #MeToo strike

Key Points
  • McDonald's employees staged a strike in 10 cities Tuesday to draw attention to sexual harassment at the burger giant.
  • Carrying signs that read "#MeToo McDonald's," hundreds of cooks and cashiers walked out on their jobs to gather and speak out, organizers said.
  • Ten McDonald's employees have filed charges against the company, according to Law360, a subscription legal news service.
A McDonald's employee holds a sign during a protest against sexual harassment in the workplace on September 18, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. McDonald's workers in 10 US cities staged a one-day strike Tuesday inspired by the #MeToo movement, alleging the fast-food giant does not adequately address pervasive sexual harassment at its stores.
Joshua Lott | AFP | Getty Images

Hundreds of McDonald's employees, emboldened by the #MeToo movement, demonstrated outside company headquarters in Chicago on Tuesday to draw attention to alleged sexual harassment at work.

Workers staged the one-day strike across 10 cities in what organizers said would be the first multistate walkout protesting sexual harassment, according to Fight for $15, a workers' rights group organized to help raise the minimum wage.

Carrying signs that read "#MeToo McDonald's," hundreds of cooks and cashiers walked out on their jobs to gather and speak out, organizers said.

In Chicago, protesters gathered outside the McDonald's headquarters, chanting, "We're here, we're loud, sexual harassment is not allowed," and "Respect us, accept us, don't try to touch us," NBC News reported.

Protesters called for more respect in the workplace, better training for managers and more accountability.

"It's time to say, 'I'm not on the menu,'" one protester said at the demonstration outside McDonald's headquarters, which was streamed live on Facebook by Fight for $15.

Organizers told The Associated Press that the strike would also target restaurants in Durham, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Miami; Milwaukee; New Orleans; Orlando, Florida; San Francisco and St. Louis.

Hundreds of McDonald's employees participated in the strike, and 10 McDonald's employees have filed charges against the company, according to Fight for $15. Support from the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund helped pay for their legal fees. In addition, 17 other complaints were filed nearly two years ago, the defense fund said. Attorneys have asked the EEOC to consolidate the 2016 and 2018 complaints into one investigation.

"The Time's Up Legal Defense Fund supports the legal complaints against McDonald's because sexual harassment puts working people in a no-win situation — forcing them to choose between a paycheck and enduring abuse," Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center, said in a statement. "It's time for McDonald's and their franchisees to root out sexual harassment at the workplace."

Representatives from the EEOC did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

McDonald's said it has "strong policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment," according to a statement.

The company also disclosed an initiative that will engage outside experts to work with the company to help "evolve" those policies and procedures. Some of the experts would come from Seyfarth Shaw at Work, an employment law training firm, and RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization.

Sexual harassment in the restaurant industry has come to light recently as a number of well-known chefs and TV personalities have been publicly accused of misconduct.

The majority of restaurant managerial positions are held by men, while women make up the bulk of lower-status, lower-paying positions, according to the Culinary Institute of America. This difference in power can create an environment where sexual harassment is tolerated, ignored or even normalized. Employees can often feel uncomfortable bringing up the harassment or may be fearful about losing their job by filing complaints, restaurant industry leaders and human resource managers said during a panel discussion hosted by the institute earlier this year.

Some 40 percent of women in the fast-food industry reported facing sexual harassment on the job, according to a 2016 survey conducted by Hart Research Associates. The most common forms of harassment included sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions, unwanted hugging or touching and questions about sexual interests or being told unwanted information about others' sexual interests.

According to Hart Research, 45 percent of women in fast food cited health problems such as anxiety, depression and issues sleeping due to the harassment they faced while on the job.

The majority of respondents said they tried to avoid their harasser, with only 4 in 10 reporting the issue to their employer.

[Editor's Note: A previous version of this article included a picture of a McDonald's employee at work. To clarify, the picture was not used to identify whether or not a particular employee was associated with the #MeToo Movement or a victim of sexual harassment.]

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