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.
— Fight for $15 LA (@Fightfor15LA) September 18, 2018
"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.
— Fight For 15 Chicago (@chifightfor15) September 18, 2018
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.
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Participants in the lunch-time strike shared their stories of experiencing harassment or assault at the hands of customers, fellow employees, and supervisors.
Carole is on strike today and she's reading the story of our undocumented sister who couldn't risk being public: "My supervisor tried to kiss me, I said no. After that he would ignore me on the job and yell at me in front of my co-workers." #FightFor15 #metoo pic.twitter.com/r37XMHhRk9
— Fight For 15 Nor Cal (@NorCalFF15) September 18, 2018
Kim was sexually harrassed at McDonalds twice at McDonalds before she filed a lawsuit to stop the harrassment. Today she's on strike because she knows that the law is just one avenue to winning change at work. #FightFor15 #MeToo pic.twitter.com/rrgdHdobxw
— Stand Up KC (@standup_kc) September 18, 2018
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 Guardianshe 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.
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.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 18, 2018
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. https://t.co/DktwRz7cSN
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) September 18, 2018