McDonald's In The Frying Pan

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, USA - OCTOBER 20 :  McDonald's Restaurantl on October 20, 2013 in Las Vegas,

A decision by federal regulators could change the lives of millions of America's lowest-paid workers, and open the way for complaints blaming McDonald's for low pay and poor working conditions in its restaurants.

The ruling by the New York regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says that the giant McDonald's hamburger chain shares responsibility for workers' wages and working conditions with the operators of its franchise restaurants.

McDonald's can now be named as a "joint employer" in 113 unfair labor practices complaints filed by franchise workers that are currently pending across the nation, according to Micah Wissinger, an attorney for Levy Ratner, the law firm which represents New York City fast-food workers. The designation could give workers more clout in future legal actions seeking higher wages or better working conditions, or protesting firing decisions.

The ruling "leaves no doubt" that franchise workers are employees of McDonald's, saaid Mark Barenberg, a law professor at Columbia Law School. "The determination from the NLRB's General Counsel has the potential to upend the fast-food industry's decades-long strategy of "out-sourcing" legal responsibility to franchisees when it comes to securing workers' rights. Companies like McDonald's insert an intermediary between themselves and workers, even though they're manifestly in control of the franchisees' employment decisions."

The ruling forces McDonald's to take responsibility for the treatment of employees in more than 14,000 restaurants that bear its name. Workers suing for better wages and working conditions can now name the fast-food chain as well as a franchise company in complaints against the company.

The decision also has implications for other hamburger chains like Burger King, and many other fast-food brands like KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, which all are owned by Yum! Brands but operated primarily as franchises.

McDonald's argues that it does not direct hiring, firing, wages or hours of employees at its franchise restaurants.

Richard Eiker, who has worked at a McDonald's in Kansas City for 30 years, says the company constantly monitors its franchises, using tracking software, on-site inspections and visits from "secret shoppers" to monitor every aspect of operations.

A spokeswoman for McDonald's USA told The Associated Press that the company will appeal the decision.

David French, senior vice president with the National Retail Federation, told The New York Times that the decision is "outrageous."

"It is just further evidence that the N.L.R.B. has lost all credibility as a government agency established to protect workers and is now just a government agency that serves as an adjunct for organized labor, which has fought for this decision for a number of years as a means to more easily unionize entire companies and industries," French said.

The issue was brought to the forefront by labor organizers backed by the United Service Employees International Union, which has staged nationwide protests in favor of higher wages and more stable work hours for fast-food employees.
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