by Jessica Corbett
In the first-ever nationwide strike of its kind for the fast food industry, hundreds of McDonald’s workers channeled the power of the #MeToo movement on Tuesday by walking out to protest the company’s failure to address the “sexual assault epidemic” at its restaurants.
Protests across 10 major American cities—Chicago, Durham, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, San Francisco, and St Louis—aimed to pressure the company to “strengthen and enforce its zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment” by holding mandatory trainings, creating an effective system to manage complaints, and forming a committee that includes workers to improve policies.
“These are our demands. They aren’t radical. McDonald’s response to us today proves which side of history they stand on,” tweeted Fight for 15 LA.
“Today’s action is not just bold, but historic,” the Cut reports. “This is the first-ever nationwide strike against sexual harassment, and it’s led by working-class women of color in a moment of reckoning that tends to be dominated by accounts of the wealthy and privileged.”
Protesters outside McDonald’s Chicago headquarters held a five-minute moment of silence “to highlight how we’ve been silenced too long about sexual harassment.” The group also taped their demands to the building doors.
“We’re breaking our silence, we’re making history,” Teresa Cervantes declared at a Chicago rally, “so youth will have a better future.” Cervantes has worked for multiple McDonald’s restaurants in the Chicago area, and her daughter also works for the company.
McDonald’s wouldn’t open its HQ doors to get our demands even though we make billions from them every year. We had to leave our demands taped to the wall,” stated Fight for 15 Chicago.
McDonald’s claims there are “policies, procedures, and training in place that are specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment,” but workers say complaints often have been met with indifference or even retaliation.
“All the men feel like they have all the power, so they’ll cut your hours. Or if they can’t, they’ll just make your day a living hell. They make you feel like you are nothing, just because you tried to stand up against them,” Adriana Alvarez, who has worked at a Chicago McDonald’s for nine years and helped organize the strike, told The New Republic.
Participants in the lunch-time strike shared their stories of experiencing harassment or assault at the hands of customers, fellow employees, and supervisors.
In May, just days before McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting, 10 women who worked at the company’s restaurants throughout the country—backed by Fight for $15 and the TIMES UP Legal Defense Fund—filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Tanya Harrell, who worked at a McDonald’s in Gretna, Louisiana, is one of those 10 women. She told the Guardians he had multiple coworkers make unwelcome sexual advances: one grabbed her breasts at the restaurant; another pinned her to a bathroom wall and tried to have sex with her. “I felt totally exposed,” Harrell said.
“Managers feel it’s not their problem,” she added. “They don’t take it seriously.”
As the workers walked off the job in hopes of making McDonald’s take complaints more seriously, both Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) offered their support for the strike.
Senator Sanders tweeted, “40% of fast-food workers have reported experiencing sexual harassment. That is simply unacceptable. We must stand with the brave McDonald’s workers walking out today to demand the company address this epidemic of sexual harassment.”
“Low-wage workers are especially vulnerable to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. It’s wrong, and it has to stop. I stand with McDonalds workers who are striking today to protest sexual harassment on the job, and retaliation for reporting it,” stated Senator Warren.
Jessica Corbett is a Staff Writer for CommonDreams.org.
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