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NLRB: McDonald's, Franchisees Both Liable for Worker Treatment

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

The National Labor Relations Board's General Counsel has ruled that McDonald's is jointly responsible for treatment of workers at its franchisees' restaurants.

The ruling comes amidst the NLRB findings that of the 181 unfair labor practice complaints filed against the fast-food chain and its franchisees over the last 20 months, at least 43 had merit, reports The New York Times. Complaints in these cases include allegations that workers were fired and threatened for pro-union activities. McDonald's will now be considered a "joint employer" in those cases, which could make the company legally responsible for violations at franchisee locations.

What was the rationale behind the ruling and how might this ruling affect McDonald's and other large fast food chains?

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Ruling Bucks Longstanding Trend

The General Counsel's ruling that McDonald's is jointly responsible with franchisees for worker complaints runs counter to the general rule that franchisees are legally independent from the franchisor for purposes of labor relations.

Groups representing fast food workers pushing for increased minimum wages and the right to unionize argued that strict rules set by McDonald's for its more than 3,000 U.S. franchisees regarding hiring and other day-to-day operations makes them a joint employer.

McDonald's denied setting wages or working conditions at their franchisee restaurants, and the company plans to appeal the ruling.

May Provide Boost to Fast Food Union Efforts

If upheld, the ruling in these cases could make it more difficult for McDonalds and other fast food chains to deflect allegations of unfair labor practices.

Workers at McDonald's and other fast food restaurants staged a series of one-day strikes last year, seeking increased wages and unionization. Many of the complaints investigated by the NLRB stem from these protests, reports The Wall Street Journal.

This ruling could conceivably allow workers at McDonald's and other large fast food chains who utilize the franchise model to organize as a single bargaining unit, as opposed to having to form separate unions for each franchisee location.

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