Who really owns your friendly neighborhood McDonald’s?

By Richard Eiker
August 4, 2014

Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles

I work at a McDonald’s franchise, but the corporation is my boss.

McDonald’s may say it’s not — and argue this point before the National Labor Relations Board. But the corporation sure acts like one. It sets the rules and controls just about every aspect of our franchise.

On Tuesday, the board’s general counsel determined that McDonald’s is a joint employer in its restaurants. McDonald’s has said it will fight this. But under the ruling, McDonald’s can’t say I work only for the franchise, and the corporation has to respond to my co-workers and I when we demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union directly.

It’s about time. To anyone who works for the company — as I have for 25 years — it’s clear who’s in charge.

Demonstrators gather outside a McDonald's restaurant in New YorkLet’s start with where I work. The store is owned by McDonald’s, like the majority of Golden Arches franchises. The company charges rent. I work at a “signature” store, meaning it’s a big money maker. It also means we are usually among the first to get building upgrades. Corporate wants it to look a certain way — and has the power to evict the franchise owner if the restaurant doesn’t look right.

A representative from McDonald’s shows up at my store five or six times a year. Sometimes the representative stands outside the drive-through, counting cars and timing each sale. The company knows that the faster employees work, the more customers are served — and the more profits MacDonald’s makes.

The reps also walk through the kitchen to make sure that employees are making burgers according to company procedures and at the speed set by the company. The visitors also make sure that all cleaning is done as directed, checking everything from ceiling tiles to the tubes inside the frappe machine. They ask how new products are selling and what their profit margins are.

A few weeks after we got the new smoothie and frappe machines, for example, a corporate executive came in and was asking managers what the sales were, how the machines were working and what actual operating costs were.

A protester holds a sign outside a McDonald's outlet, as they demand higher wages for fast food workers in the Manhattan borough of New YorkSometimes we don’t even know when these inspections are happening because McDonald’s regularly sends out undercover inspectors. They use the drive-through or come inside the restaurant to order, just like customers. They clock how long it takes to get served. They check whether servers are smiling at customers and greeting them properly. They monitor whether advertising is correctly displayed.

Once a month, managers get reports from these undercover inspectors. There can be major repercussions if, for example, a drive-through order took too long to fill. People have been suspended for a negative review from these undercover inspections, which might mean that it took more than two minutes to fill a drive-through order.

Perhaps the worst thing is the corporate computer system, which gives up-to-the-minute reports on labor costs and sales. Managers are pushing all the time to bring down costs. If I work 10 minutes past my shift, they ask me what I’m still doing in the store.

I’ve heard comments that our labor cost is too high. And when that happens, people get sent home. Usually they ask for volunteers. If no one volunteers, managers start sending people home. They simply say, “Labor’s too high Richard, we need to let you go.”

So why does it matter who my boss is? After 25 years, I make $11.05 an hour, which is about $600 per paycheck. My rent is $730 a month. I have a car payment to make and utilities. My mother just moved into a nursing home, so I no longer have her Social Security payments to help out. You do the math: I’m going to have to move.

The ruling from the NLRB’s general counsel could help workers hold McDonald’s accountable for labor abuses and make it easier for us to form a union — without retaliation. Just as important, now that the general counsel has recognized what we workers have always known —  that McDonald’s is the boss — maybe the company will stop pinning how we’re treated on the franchisees and pay us a wage we can live on.

PHOTO (TOP): Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald’s in Los Angeles, California, May 15, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Demonstrators gather outside a McDonald’s restaurant in New York, May 15, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

PHOTO (INSERT 2): A protester holds a sign outside a McDonald’s outlet in the Manhattan borough of New York, March 18, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

14 comments

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Not to downplay the concept of the living wage, but the hourly wage rate does have a ripple effect. That $15/hr is passed onto the consumers in the price of their Quarter Pounder. Why else does a QP in NYC sell for nearly $5 and the same is about $3.25 in Savannah, GA. More expensive meals mean fewer trips to McDonald’s with the family. Fewer trips means fewer sales, which means less labor required. As a result, the $15/hr may be a short term increase in salary that cost employement in the end.

Posted by smokeymtnblues | Report as abusive

Something does not add up. The author writes very well, seems to understand the ins and outs of a McDonald’s store operation and he is making $11.05 as a general employee after 25 years on the job. One thing for sure, if I were McD.’s COO I would send a corporate aircraft to get this guy and bring him to HQ to find out what the heck is going on with a guy who has 25 years in the trenches but is still in the trenches.

Posted by Juan13 | Report as abusive

Mr. Eiker, if you are unhappy with your employment why have you stayed with the company for 25 years?

There is a reason that the labor market is called a “market.” You are completely free to offer your services to the highest bidder and the employers are free to hire acceptable employees at whatever price is on offer. If McDonalds could not get the people that they need at the prices they are offering, they would raise the offer.

If you propose that the government force your employer to pay more, then you’d better also have the government force your customers to continue buying at whatever higher price is necessary to cover those higher labor costs. If you don’t also do that, the result (as smokeymtnblues points out) will be fewer McDonald’s employees. A second effect will be fewer McDonald’s stores, as people do not invest in unprofitable enterprises. There is no free lunch.

Posted by oldnorwegian | Report as abusive

What type of person who is worried about personal income spends 25 years working at McDs without moving into management or improving one’s marketable skills to get a better job? The absurdity (is that a word?) of expecting to make a “living wage” while in a high schoolers job is ridiculous. If you want a living wage, get a living skill!

Posted by gcf1965 | Report as abusive

Use a computer screen for order taking. It is common in Japan and even in Europe at… McDonalds (seen in Brussels, Belgium)!

Posted by Andreid | Report as abusive

Every time you buy something from the retail or service industries, you are asking someone to stand there and work for peanuts. Every time you look for the cheapest price, you are asking companies to dip to the bottom of the barrel and pay out low wages. We have all created this reality, and we can dispel this dark aesthetic of cheap as soon as we choose to…

Posted by CanyonLiveOak | Report as abusive

@CanyonLiveOak

People look for the cheapest price in order to survive themselves. It’s fine to preach if you have the means.

Posted by Mark_Steadman | Report as abusive

Professional burger flippers, is that a college course now? I agree with most of the other comments here, get a skill or degree to make some money.

Posted by Siryoda | Report as abusive

I see that none of you bothered to see that the author is a maintenance man, not a “burger flipper.” While he could possibly find other employment, he won’t earn a whole lot more in his current profession. Going to school to learn another skill set is expensive and probably isn’t affordable on Mr. Eiker’s income.

Posted by shootmyownfood | Report as abusive

smokeymtnblues,
you made a fundamental error by assuming that labour costs are a significant portion of the Macdonalds Corporation’s costs. They are not. Wages could be doubled by adding less than 10 cents to a burger price. I suspect you know this but prefer to keep quiet.

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

Heck fire, people, haven’t you ever read a ghost writer? A. Nonymous is a nom de plume I betcha. In any case, you are what you eat. Escape corporate America. Pack your lunch.

Posted by JimTheDiver | Report as abusive

Just out of curiosity, if you dislike the company so very much, why have you worked there for 25 years? Sounds to me like you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Find a better job.

Posted by imadsen | Report as abusive

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