Over the last decade, McDonald's has had to deal with its share of negative publicity. From the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, which argued that the company's menu and portion sizes are essentially killing its customers, to outcry over its marketing practices to children, to the recent "pink slime" controversy, the fast food giant has been sporting a face full of Egg McMuffin.
This month, the public scrutiny of McDonald's continued when a group of Latin American guestworkers at a central Pennsylvania McDonald's went on strike over unpaid overtime, horrific living conditions and other serious labor violations. Now touring the country to shine a light on both their own plight and on the poor working conditions faced by all McDonald's workers, the guestworkers won a victory when the multinational corporation forced the offending franchisee to close the doors of all of its locations.
While McDonald's no doubt hopes that swift punishment of one franchisee in central Pennsylvania will sweep the issue under the rug, the labor issues facing the company right now have gotten too big to ignore. The 16 guestworkers on strike represent a small sliver of the thousands of workers across the country exploited by the company on a daily basis. And as they tour the country to visit other fast food workers who are organizing for fair wages and better working conditions, bad press for McDonald's will continue to snowball.
This week, the striking guestworkers came to Chicago, in support of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC). WOCC is a newly formed union of downtown Chicago low wage retail and restaurant workers who are waging the Fight For 15 campaign, demanding a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to join a union without employer interference. The campaign includes many McDonald's workers, whose own stories of not making ends meet on minimum wage are all-too-similar to the guestworkers' nightmarish experience.
"We are here today because your struggle is our struggle," guestworker Jorge Victor Rios told a crowd of over 50 who gathered at Chicago's iconic Rock N Roll McDonald's for a workers' rights teach in, organized by WOCC. "At first, I thought we were being exploited because we were guestworkers, but the more I spoke to others about my experience, the more I realized that McDonald's workers all across the country are facing the exact same work conditions that I did. The only difference is, I can return to my country soon and this nightmare will be over. For the tens of thousands of other McDonald's workers right here in the U.S., the nightmare never ends."
As workers stand together to exposing the exploitation lurking in the shadow of the golden arches, the nightmare for the corporate heads and board members of the huge multinational is just beginning.
All seems well on the balance sheet. Financially, the company is experiencing unprecedented success, with the New York Times reporting in 2012 that sales were up 13 percent from 2008, when the Great Recession began, with the company now dominating 17 percent of the limited-service food industry in the country -- more than its next four largest competitors combined.
But these high financial times depend upon the economic suffering of its largely contingent, part-time and low-wage workforce. And it is clear that these workers have had enough. From the WOCC in Chicago to the Pennsylvania guestworkers to the Fast Food Forward campaign in New York City, McDonald's workers across the country are demanding that the company take responsibility for the working conditions it puts in place, and begin paying workers a living wage.
After Monday's teach-in at McDonald's flagship store, a delegation of WOCC workers and the student guestworkers delivered a petition with over 60,000 signatures to the company's headquarters in Oak Brook Terrace, IL, asking the company restore the striking guestworkers' lost wages, as well as offer full-time hours to all of its U.S. workers and reveal the names of all franchisees participating in the guestworker program.
Tuesday, the delegation drove the message home -- literally -- delivering an assortment of food from the guestworkers' countries to the multi-million-dollar estate of CEO Don Thompson.
Whether McDonald's is listening remains to be seen, but as worker organizing continues to gain momentum at McDonald's workplaces across the country, the company soon will have no choice but to pay attention to their workers and address their concerns.