NLRB hits McDonald’s as joint employer

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McDonald’s and its franchisees illegally retaliated against employees for participating in union-related activities, the National Labor Relations Board’s top lawyer alleged Friday in a case with sweeping industry implications.

NLRB general counsel Richard Griffin announced Friday he will issue 13 complaints involving 78 charges against franchises and McDonald’s USA, LLC. 

Though many of these alleged labor violations were committed by independent franchise owners, Griffin ruled earlier this year that McDonald’s can be held liable for those actions as a so-called joint employer, leaving the corporatrion — and potentially other franchisors — exposed to such claims.

McDonald’s said the decision will “strike at the heart of the franchise system.”

“McDonald’s is disappointed with the board’s decision to overreach and move forward with these charges,” the company said in a statement

“These allegations are driven in large part by a two-year, union-financed campaign that has targeted the McDonald’s brand and impacted McDonald’s restaurants,” it added.

McDonald's argued it shouldn't be held responsible for labor decisions made by independent franchise operators, but labor groups accused the popular fast food chain of "inventing a make-believe world in which responsibility for wages and working conditions falls squarely on the shoulder of franchisees."

"McDonald's is the boss," said Micah Wissinger, the attorney who is representing McDonald's workers in New York City.

"McDonald's requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there's no doubt who's really in charge," he added.

Griffin alleges that McDonald’s disciplined employees who participated in fast-food worker protests around the country by reducing their hours and firing others, among other disciplinary actions.

McDonald’s also threatened and interrogated employees, and had “over broad restrictions on communicating with union representatives and with other employees about unions,” said.

The alleged labor violations took place against workers in Manhattan, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, Griffin said. 

The McDonald's case is one of two highly-anticipated moves the NLRB is expected to take on the joint employer standard by the end of the year. 

Business groups also have their eyes peeled for the NLRB to release a decision in the Browning-Ferris case, which could have even broader implications for the franchise industry.

Angelo Amador, vice president of the National Restaurant Association, said he is waiting for the "second shoe to drop" any day now.

The NLRB is expected to use the Browning-Ferris case as a platform to broaden the scope of the joint employer standard so it would apply to other industries, business groups charge.

"This is the nightmare before Christmas for local franchise businesses,” said Robert Cresanti, executive vice president of government relations at the International Franchise Association. "A group of unelected Washington bureaucrats has ganged up with union bosses, while Congress has left town for the holiday break.”

The McDonald's cases will now go before administrative law judges in Manhattan, Chicago and Los Angeles, beginning on March 30, unless the parties reach a settlement first, Griffin said.

The losing party could then appeal the ALJ’s decision to the five-member National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C.