Opinion

The Great Debate

Who really owns your friendly neighborhood McDonald’s?

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.

Clashes with Russia point to globalization’s end

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As the European Union and the United States ramp up their sanctions on Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s plans for retaliation seem to include an attack on McDonald’s. There could not be a more powerful symbol that geopolitics is increasingly undoing the globalization of the world economy.

The burger chain was celebrated in the 1990s by the journalist Thomas Friedman’s “Golden Arches theory of conflict prevention,” which argued that the spread of McDonald’s around the world would bring an end to war. But almost 25 years after a McDonald’s restaurant opened in Moscow, it seems that deep interdependence has not ended conflict between great powers – it has merely provided a new battlefield for it.

As in any relationship that turns sour, many of the things that initially tie the parties together are now being used to drive them apart. For the past two decades we have heard that the world is becoming a global village because of the breadth and depth of its trading and investment links, its nascent global governance and the networks of the information age. But those forces for interdependence are degenerating into their opposite; we could call it the three faces of ‘splinterdependence’:

I’m making $21 an hour at McDonald’s. Why aren’t you?

mcdonalds -- topI work for McDonald’s and I make $21 an hour.

No, that isn’t a typo. It’s really my salary.

You see, I work for McDonald’s in Denmark, where an agreement between our union and the company guarantees that workers older than 18 are paid at least $21 an hour. Employees younger than 18 make at least $15 — meaning teenagers working at McDonald’s in Denmark make more than two times what many adults in America earn working at the Golden Arches.

To anyone who says that fast-food jobs can’t be good jobs, I would answer that mine isn’t bad. In fact, parts of it are just fine. Under our union’s agreement with McDonald’s, for example, I receive paid sick leave that workers are still fighting for in many parts of the world. We also get overtime pay, guaranteed hours and at least two days off a week, unlike workers in most countries. At least 10 percent of the staff in any given restaurant must work at least 30 hours a week.

mcmoneyBut in New York last week, I met fast-food workers from around the world who aren’t as lucky as I am. We marched through Midtown Manhattan demanding a fair wage and respect at the workplace.

The fight for a global minimum wage

Demonstrators gather during a nationwide strike and protest at fast food restaurants to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 in New YorkOn Thursday, fast-food workers in more than 30 countries across six continents will take coordinated action on an unprecedented scale. In the United States, they will walk off their jobs in 150 cities — the largest strike ever. Workers around the world will join these protests in 80 cities.

The protestors are set to take over a McDonald’s during lunchtime rush hour in Belgium; hold flash-mobs at McDonald’s restaurants across the Philippines, and conduct a teach-in at McDonald’s headquarters in New Zealand.

The spread of the fast-food movement to the global stage is notable for the speed at which it has happened. What began as a single strike in New York City in November 2012, with roughly 200 workers participating, has in 18 months spread across the country and now across national borders. The efforts of fast-food workers have captured the nation’s attention, been featured in President Barack Obama’s speeches on inequality and inspired local elected officials to raise minimum wages.

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