Who really owns your friendly neighborhood McDonald’s?
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.
Let’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.
Sometimes 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