Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Workers and allies demanding a $15 an hour wage stage a protest outside a McDonald's restaurant.

Workers and allies demanding a $15 an hour wage stage a protest outside a McDonald's restaurant. (Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr/cc)

As NLRB Delivers 'Victory' to McDonald's, Docs Reveal Fast Food Giant's Dirty Anti-Union Tactics

"The owner class will buy up every lever of power they can... But in the end we will win because together we are unstoppable."

Jessica Corbett

A lengthy Bloomberg article spotlighting President Donald Trump's long affinity for McDonald's—which preceded a major decision from a federal agency that involved the fast food giant—revealed Thursday morning that thousands of previously unreported company documents and internal emails expose how "corporate executives monitored developments as managers helped orchestrate a years-long anti-union response across the U.S."

Bloomberg reviewed McDonald's internal records and reported that the company's "tactics, which were discussed by and, at times, coordinated by regional executives of the company, included gathering intelligence from a cashier who attended a union meeting as a mole, circulating names of suspected pro-union workers, and coaching a franchisee on how to avoid hiring union sympathizers."

McDonald's and several of its franchises had turned over the documents to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in response to a federal judge's subpoena, which came as part of a years-long case that involved the question of whether McDonald's is a "joint employer" and thus liable for labor law violations committed by its franchisees.

Bloomberg's report came just hours before the NLRB—which is chaired by a Trump appointee—issued a split ruling instructing a federal judge to approve a settlement in the McDonald's case that does not include a joint employer finding. The Wall Street Journal called the development "a victory for the world's largest fast food chain as it faces calls to improve working conditions at its 14,000 domestic restaurants."

Those calls ramped up in 2012, in the form of the national Fight for $15 campaign, which is supported by labor groups including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). McDonald's has remained a key target of the campaign—which called the NLRB ruling "illegitimate" and accused Trump administration agencies of "making decisions in the interest of corporations like McDonald's and not the American people or the law."

"The settlement is not valid," the campaign said in a statement, promising a forceful appeal. "McDonald's is walking away with a get-out of-jail-free card after illegally retaliating against low-paid workers who were fighting to be paid enough to feed their families."

Ahead of the NLRB ruling Thursday, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry also vowed to appeal any decision that didn't serve workers.

Henry told Bloomberg in a statement that "it's going to take a lot more than a politically motivated decision on behalf of a Trump administration doing McDonald's bidding to stop the workers of the Fight for $15."

In a series of tweets Thursday that highlighted the report, Henry added that "it's simply not healthy [for] our country when corporations can use their massive power and influence to block working people from having any power and influence in their communities."

"Americans who work hard to generate profit for [McDonalds] and other large corporations," she wrote, "should get a seat at the table through #UnionsForAll to negotiate for a fair return on that hard work."

Bloomberg detailed workers' demands for improvements—which often came in the form of public demonstrations—and how McDonald's has responded to them:

Signs of unionizing efforts began emerging in October 2012, as reflected in a memo about organizing activity that circulated via McDonald's internal email. "Seems to be affiliation with Occupy Wall Street movement," said the document, which was in an email from a senior director of human resources. Soon, notes about the union showed up on an internal McDonald's "activity log." Said one entry: "White male talking to employees about affordable housing and asking questions about pay. Repeatedly in restaurant."

After word of an upcoming union meeting surfaced, a cashier at one New York City McDonald's acted as a mole for the company, records show. She attended the meeting in Harlem, and by the next day, she shared her findings: About a dozen workers signed up to be union leaders, a report on the incident said.

The Fight for $15 campaign shared the report on Twitter, denouncing McDonald's behavior as "illegal" and "anti-worker."

According to Bloomberg:

The company created fast, effective communications channels with franchisees to discuss the union's activities. In emails and text messages, its managers made plans to combat "the opposition" and emphasized that some messages needed to be secret.

"There is a sense of urgency regarding the gathering of this intel so that we can plan and prep the operators...," said one email from a human resources director. "As a tip, you can text your operators regarding this message, however you have to instruct them to ERASE the message and response back to you, and you will need to do the same."

In addition to a cadre of labor lawyers and several public relations firms, McDonald's worked with "union avoidance" strategists, records show. In one case, a regional executive shared with a franchisee strategies on how to identify and avoid "salts," or people who try to get hired in order to help organize a workplace. Federal law restricts the organized avoidance of such hires.

Without addressing several allegations, McDonald's told Bloomberg in a statement that the case is "incredibly complex" and that the "evidence is vast and complicated, and requires significant context to accurately and responsibly consider." The company challenged Bloomberg's summary of the evidence and said that "what you have highlighted are selective allegations and asserted them as facts, when there has been no judicial decision or review."

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, concluded from the report that "the owner class will buy up every lever of power they can. They will fight with every tired, dirty trick in the book. But in the end we will win because together we are unstoppable."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Donald Trump Has Finally Run Out of Places to Hide' as House Dems Get Tax Returns

"It's no longer a question of if he's hiding something big," one watchdog group asserted, "it's a question of what he's hiding."

Brett Wilkins ·


Democrats, Progressive Groups Push DOJ to Publish Database of 'Corporate Lawbreaking'

"The Corporate Crime Database Act will bring transparency to the corporate crime crisis so that the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies can better reckon with this greed-driven menace," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·


As Corporations Enjoy Record-High Profits, Experts Urge Congress to 'Rein Them In'

"Today's record corporate profits mirror what we have been hearing on earnings call after earnings call: Corporations are gleefully reporting that their strategy to burden families with unnecessary price hikes is working."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Egregious': PFAS Firefighting Foam Spills at Notorious Red Hill Naval Facility in Hawaii

While officials said there is no evidence that drinking water was contaminated, the incident generated further local frustration with the closing fuel storage complex.

Jessica Corbett ·


House Passes Paid Sick Leave for Railway Workers Despite Opposition of 207 Republicans

"Now let's get it through the Senate," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who led the fight to add seven days of paid sick leave to a White House-brokered contract that failed to provide any to railroad workers.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo