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NLRB: McDonald's, Franchisees Retaliated After Fast-Food Strikes

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 22, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The NLRB has filed 13 complaints against McDonald's, accusing the fast food giant of allowing employees to be fired for participating in protests or union activity.

McDonald's is being drawn in to court as a "joint employer," meaning that the NLRB wishes to hold the company liable for the alleged labor violations of its franchisees. Reuters reports that the complaints made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will be heard by administrative law judges in March.

What is McDonald's being accused of?

Federal Labor Law Violations Alleged

The NLRB noted in a press release on Friday that it had filed 13 separate complaints against McDonald's, involving 78 charges of labor violations at franchise locations nationwide. These charges stem from allegations that McDonald's and its associated franchises retaliated against or intimidated workers for participating in union activity and a series of nationwide strikes calling for higher wages in the fast-food industry.

Lisa McComb, a McDonald's spokeswoman, told Reuters that the allegations were the result of a "two-year, union-financed campaign that has targeted the McDonald's brand and impacted McDonald's restaurants." Federal law allows small and large business workers to unionize and participate in protests over pay and working conditions, and the NLRB's complaints charge McDonald's with violating those labor laws.

Is McDonald's a Joint Employer?

McDonald's is also named in the NLRB complaints as a "joint employer" along with the franchisees in question. Why is this a big deal? Because joint employers are responsible for the labor violations of their franchisees. In a recent case, the Board determined that McDonald's was responsible for the alleged violations that occurred at its franchises, bucking a longstanding trend that a franchiser is insulated from the legal messes of its franchisees.

Part of the argument for treating McDonald's as a joint employer is that the company exerts a great deal of control over its franchises. Reuters reports that others are less optimistic about making McDonald's responsible for its franchises' legal worries. Robert Cresanti, VP of the International Franchise Association, worries that this move may cause big players like McDonald's to abandon franchising altogether.

The sky hasn't fallen yet on the Golden Arches, and we will likely need to wait until March to assess the real effect of the NLRB's action on the legal protections of franchises.

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