On the picket line

New sexual harassment suit against McDonald’s

Jamelia Fairley and Ashley Reddick, who worked for several years at McDonald’s in Sanford, Fla., filed a class-action lawsuit against the company alleging a widespread pattern of sexual harassment of 5,000 women workers at the company’s 100 stores throughout the state. In addition to $500 million in damages, their ultimate goal is to fundamentally change the way McDonald’s handles sexual harassment at all of its 14,000 stores across the country. The suit, which specifically demands “effective worker-centered antiharassment policies and procedures and training” for both lower- and upper-level McDonald’s managers, is backed by Fight For $15 and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

Because all McDonald’s stores in the state of Florida are owned by the company, this suit strips the global fast food giant of a legal shield that it has used to stop other suits in the past. Because 9 out of 10 McDonald’s are franchises, the parent company has always claimed it is not responsible for labor violations in those stores. Even though the Trump Department of Labor restored the anti-worker definition of “joint employers” on Jan. 12 (Workers World, Jan. 23), in Florida the company is solely responsible for working conditions in all its stores.

Both women, who were trying to provide for their families while earning peanuts, were harassed by co-workers and clients alike. When both complained, managers retaliated by cutting their hours, and eventually Reddick was fired. Allynn Umel, organizing director for Fight For $15, compared McDonald’s failure to protect workers and stop sexual harassment on the job with the lack of safety protections for workers during the pandemic. (In These Times, April 13) To support this struggle, sign the petition at metoomcdonalds.org.


Wis. Carpenters strike against increased mandatory overtime

The 350 members of Carpenters Local 1733 went on strike after their contract at Masonite Architecture in Marshfield, Wis., expired March 31, because the company demanded a mandatory third weekend of overtime a month. The workers “do not want to give up all their weekends to work. Bottom line,” Greg Coenen, Local 1733  business representative, told waow.com on April 8. But when the company finally changed mandatory overtime to three six-hour Saturdays a month, the workers, who make doors, agreed to go back to work on April 13.

Reform needed for H-2A farm workers visa program

A new report released April 9 by Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM), a migrant workers’ rights organization in the U.S. and Mexico, documents extensive labor abuses in the U.S. H-2A visa program. “Ripe for Reform: Abuse of Agricultural Workers in the H-2A Visa Program” is based on in-depth interviews with 100 workers across Mexico who came to the U.S. on these visas in the last four years. The program was expanded in 2019 for a record 256,667 workers. All surveyed workers experienced at least one serious legal violation, and 94 percent experienced three or more.

The study documents discrimination, sexual harassment, wage theft and health and safety violations by employers with little or no way for workers to report violations and gain redress. The report exposes that the abuse of H-2A workers is not the product of a few “bad apple” employers. Rather, the program offers workers virtually no bargaining power, so they are vulnerable to abuse. The economically coercive practices inherent in the system make it difficult for workers to protect themselves. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program’s systemic flaws exacerbate workers’ vulnerability to the virus.

Descended from early 20th century U.S. agricultural labor practices, the H-2A program’s shortcomings combine the historical exclusion of farmworkers from federal labor protections, rooted in racist Jim Crow policies, with lax federal oversight and worker coercion. The report argues that “without reform, the number of workers suffering abuse will only get larger, and already anemic government oversight will prove even less effective.” The report recommends legislative and regulatory changes to improve the program, as well as a totally revamped model to prioritize the human rights of H-2A workers and their families and elevate labor standards for all workers. (Workday Minnesota, April 10)




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