Recently there has been a well-publicized wave of union organizing activity at fast food restaurants across the country. Owners of service industry franchises like fast-food restaurants have expressed their predictable opposition to these organization efforts by their employees, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been increasingly involved in trying to protect workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”) to engage in union organizing activity.
As part of its intervention to protect these workers’ rights, the Board announced on July 29, 2014 that it intended to treat the franchisor McDonald’s, USA, LLC and its franchisees as joint employers–that is, as jointly liable for violations of the Act at the many McDonald’s franchises nationwide. This was an important decision, since the corporation now stands to lose large sums of money from lawsuits that have been filed across the country by employees at hundreds of its local franchises.
The Board wasted no time in putting this new policy into action, announcing on December 19, 2014 that it would file 13 Consolidated Complaints comprising 78 separate charges alleging many different alleged violations of the Act. Litigation is scheduled to commence on March 30, 2015, when the Board will hold its first wave of hearings on these cases in three regional locations.
The allegations being consolidated in these hearings involve a long list of unlawful actions allegedly taken by owners and managers of Mcdonalds’ restauraunts to discourage or punish union activity by workers, including:
-Soliciting employee complaints, promising to address those complaints and improve conditions if employees refrained from union activity
-Ceasing to post employee work schedules
-Threatening employees with reprisals, including reduction of work hours or discharge, if they engaged in union activity
-Causing employees to believe that their union activities were under surveillance
-Interrogating employees about their union activities or sympathies
-Instructing employees not to engage in union activity, or to speak with Fast Food Workers’ Committee (FFWC) representatives
-Interfered with, restrained, and coerced employees in the exercise of their rights under Section 7 of the Act
-Discrminating against employees in regard to the hiring or tenure or terms of their employment in an effort to discourage union membership
-Offering an employee promotion if she ceased participating in union activities
-Restricting the use of company property, including during break time, for discussion of union actions
-Promulgating threatening empoloyees with civil or criminal prosecution for copying or reproducing company documents, including posted work schedules
The Board is taking large-scale action to change the franchise model that has been used by companies like McDonalds for decades. Under that model, high turnover and low wages are obstacles to unionization, but recent decisions about union election rules, the use of company email accounts for union organizing, and this recent decision to treat franchisors as joint employers seem to shift the balance of power from employers to employees.
If you believe your rights under the National Labor Relations Act have been violated by your employer, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.