On Tuesday, hundreds of McDonald’s employees across ten U.S. cities walked out of work at lunchtime to protest what they consider ongoing, systemic sexual harassment on the job.
Workers in Chicago, Durham, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, San Francisco, and St. Louis are hoping to draw attention to the plight of low-wage female and LGBT workers in fast food restaurants. The demonstration follows claims filed on behalf of ten female McDonald’s employees in May of this year, in conjunction with the “Fight for $15” movement and the TIMES UP Legal Defense Fund. The claims allege “groping, propositions for sex, indecent exposure and lewd comments by supervisors,” as AP summarized at the time.
In one example, Tanya Harrell, an employee who participated in the complaint filing, said a colleague “started touching her inappropriately at work, grabbing her breasts and backside and asking her to touch his penis,” the Guardian reported.
“I felt totally exposed, as if I did not have a skin or shell. I felt like I was outside my own body, watching what was happening,” she said in the complaint.
Harrell said the situation escalated when the colleague “pinned her against a wall, exposed himself and tried to have sex with her.” She says the incident only ended because her manager called for the male worker, adding that she did not report it at the time because previous complaints had fallen on deaf ears.
“People are scared. They worry that if they complain it will affect their legal status, they could get fired or there could be retaliation,” said Adrianna Alvarez, who has worked for McDonald’s in Chicago for nine years. “Women depend on these jobs.”
In a company statement, McDonald’s asserted its commitment to protecting workers:
“There is no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind at McDonald’s. Since our founding, we’ve been committed to a culture that fosters the respectful treatment of everyone. We have policies, procedures and training in place that are specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment at our company and company-owned restaurants, and we firmly believe that our franchisees share this commitment.”
The company added that it was working with third-party experts to ensure a safe working environment.
Annelise Orleck, professor of history at Dartmouth College and author of We Are All Fast-Food Workers, said this kind of harassment in the fast food industry is “endemic,” but expressed hope that things will change.
“There is a big movement of working-class women brewing. They are banking that in the age of #MeToo customers will not tolerate this kind of behavior,” she said.
Also this week, Del Taco was hit with a lawsuit from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over claims of sexual harassment at a restaurant location in California.
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