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McDonald's Protest

The low-wage worker movement has grown dramatically over recent years. (Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr/cc)

Fast Food-Loving Trump's Labor Board 'Pulls Rug Out' From Under Fast Food Workers

"While working people struggle to make ends meet, Trump's NLRB is making it harder for those who hold real power in workplaces to be held accountable."

Jessica Corbett

In a "shocking and brazen" move to advance the Trump administration's "aggressive anti-worker agenda," Republicans on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) voted along party lines to overturn a rule that helped hotel and fast food workers bring labor rights lawsuits against major companies like McDonald's and other chains.

The decision restores a policy that legal experts warn lets "joint employers evade liability" and "makes it easier for a big-pocketed [corporations] to outsource parts of their operations without taking responsibility for the outsourced workers' working conditions."

In 2014, labor unions and workers had celebrated a decision by the NLRB's general council that chains such as McDonald's—which primarily relies on franchise owners to handle daily operations at the vast majority of restaurants—could be treated as joint employers for the sake of settling labor disputes. While another ruling a year later expanded the joint-employer classification, McDonald's and its contemporaries have continued to fight against it.

"And once again, this administration pulls the rug out from under working people."
—Rebecca Smith, National Employment Law Project
Following the vote on Thursday, "two or more entities will be deemed joint employers under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) if there is proof that one entity has exercised control over essential employment terms of another entity's employees (rather than merely having reserved the right to exercise control) and has done so directly and immediately (rather than indirectly) in a manner that is not limited and routine," according to a statement by the NLRB, which settles labor disputes between workers and employers.

Because the reversion to the old rules applies to "all future and pending cases," Thursday's ruling is expected to have significant and rather immediate consequences for workers.

As Huffington Post labor reporter Dave Jamieson noted: "Earlier this year, McDonald's was put on trial as a potential joint employer so that it might be held responsible for violating the rights of workers employed by its franchisees. That case has not been ruled on yet, and the change in precedent Thursday could knock a hole in the workers' argument."

The NLRB's decision Thursday infuriated workers, labor unions, and Democrats—including the two Democrats on the NLRB who voted against the proposal—who said this was just the latest boost to the pro-corporate agenda of President Donald Trump, a fast food enthusiast who earlier this year tried to appoint the chief executive of Hardee's and Carl's Jr.—despite a long anti-worker record—to lead the Labor Department.

"This shocking and brazen decision to overturn pro-worker precedent is further proof the Trump administration will stop at nothing to line the pockets of corporations—no matter what price workers and their families are forced to pay," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate's labor committee, told Huff Post.

Other Democrats in Congress and workers' advocates turned to Twitter to call out the Trump administration's NLRB for putting "corporate interests/wealthy donors before working families."

Although, as the New York Times noted Thursday, "the joint-employer decision was arguably the highest priority" on the NLRB's chopping block, the Republican-majority board is expected to continue attacking worker-friendly rules that were established under Obama.

In addition to the joint-employer classification, the Times reports that major employers have also targeted "rulings that made it easier for smaller groups of workers within a company to unionize, that gave workers access to a company's email network for organizing purposes, and that conferred a federally protected right to unionize on graduate students at private universities."

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