McDonald’s workers in 10 U.S. cities began a strike on Tuesday to demand that their employer do more to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.
The workers carried signs emblazoned with messages supporting the Me Too movement and shared their experiences of harassment on the job. The strike is part of an effort to push McDonald’s to form a committee to address sexual harassment, said Equal Rights Advocates, which is providing legal support to the striking employees.
That committee would ideally comprise workers, representatives from corporate and franchise stores, leaders of national women’s groups, and “would chart a path forward to make sure nobody who works for McDonald’s faces sexual harassment on the job,” according to Equal Rights Advocates.
Organizers said the strike is targeting McDonald’s restaurants in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Francisco and St. Louis, as well as Durham, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; and Orlando, Florida.
Tuesday’s strike comes four months after the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund filed 10 sexual harassment charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of women employed at McDonald’s restaurants around the country. The complaints range from verbal sexual harassment to groping of young female employees by male managers. In some instances, women allegedly faced retaliation such as firing or receiving fewer work hours for reporting the harassment.
One of the harassment cases involves allegations from a 15-year-old cashier in St. Louis who said an older male employee told her: “You have a nice body; have you ever had white chocolate inside you?” The teen reported it to her manager, who allegedly told her, “You will never win that battle.”
In another case, 22-year-old New Orleans worker Tanya Harrell said she was taunted for complaining to managers about a co-worker who had groped and verbally harassed her. Harrell said a second co-worker later forced her into the men’s room, exposed himself and attempted to sexually assault her, but she decided not to report the incident based on her supervisors’ failure to act on the first complaint.
The EEOC declined to comment on the complaints, citing confidentiality.
“It’s sad that we have to walk off the job in order to be treated with respect at McDonald’s, but we’re not going to stay quiet while the company ignores the harassment we’re facing,” Harrell said in a press release ahead of the strike. “McDonald’s has a responsibility to provide a safe place to work, and we’re going to keep speaking out until the company hears our calls for change.”
Employees shouldn’t have to “choose between a paycheck and enduring abuse,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, which administers the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.
“It’s time for McDonald’s and their franchisees to root out sexual harassment at the workplace,” Goss Graves said in a statement ahead of Tuesday’s strike. “The failure to tackle this scourge should compel workers, customers and allies to demand real change and back this strike. As long as harassment stays in the shadows, it will continue to thrive.”
In a statement to HuffPost, McDonald’s touted its anti-harassment efforts, saying: “We have strong policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment. To ensure we are doing all that can be done, we have engaged experts in the areas of prevention and response including, RAINN, to evolve our policies so everyone who works at McDonald’s does so in a secure environment every day.”
Tuesday’s strike was billed as the first multi-state strike over workplace sexual harassment in over 100 years. The last such walkout took place in 1912, when garment workers at the Kalamazoo Corset Company took to the streets complaining of sexual exploitation by male foremen.
This story has been updated with a statement from McDonald’s.