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By Lambert Strether of Corrente
While the Kavanaugh hearings were going on, there was a second #MeToo-inflected development: A strike against sexual harassment at McDonald’s, on September 18. This strike did in fact get decent coverage, but did not receive the overwhelming interest and attention that the Kavanaugh hearings did, from the press and the political class generally. In this post, I’ll do a brief review of the McDonald’s coverage, and close with some personal commentary on both series of events. (This post is not about #MeToo per se, which has quite a history starting with Tarana Burke; it didn’t just start with Alyssa Milano and Harvey Weinstein, rather in the same way the #BlackLivesMatter didn’t start with @Deray.) Let me note in passing that an earlier public relations effort in March just didn’t work out:
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) March 7, 2018
With that, to the coverage. Fair warning: This is an enormous topic, so I’m just going to meander! CNBC:
Hundreds of McDonald’s employees, emboldened by the #MeToo movement, demonstrated outside company headquarters in Chicago on Tuesday to draw attention to alleged sexual harassment at work.
Workers staged the one-day strike across 10 cities in what organizers said would be the first multistate walkout protesting sexual harassment, according to Fight for $15, a workers’ rights group organized to help raise the minimum wage.
Carrying signs that read “#MeToo McDonald’s,” hundreds of cooks and cashiers walked out on their jobs to gather and speak out, organizers said.
(That word “emboldened” is a Beltway word and, to me, a tell; I very much doubt that Fight for $15 needs endogenous sources working as a sort of trickle-down effect to become emboldened about anything, given their history; it looks to me more like they’re using a tool that came to hand.)
The majority of restaurant managerial positions are held by men, while women make up the bulk of lower-status, lower-paying positions, according to the Culinary Institute of America. This can create an environment where sexual harassment is tolerated, ignored or even normalized. Employees can often feel uncomfortable bringing up the harassment or may be fearful about losing their job by filing complaints, restaurant industry leaders and human resource managers said during a panel discussion hosted by the institute earlier this year.
Some 40 percent of women in the fast-food industry reported facing sexual harassment on the job, according to a 2016 survey conducted by Hart Research Associates. The most common forms of harassment included sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions, unwanted hugging or touching and questions about sexual interests or being told unwanted information about others’ sexual interests.
According to Hart Research, 45 percent of women in fast food cited health problems such as anxiety, depression and issues sleeping due to the harassment they faced while on the job.
(The coverage I can find uses gender-neutral language: “workers”,”strikers.” A quick sample of images shows the strikers were predominantly, although not entirely, women. C’mon, guys!)
Speaking of power differentials, Vox had an explainer:
Low-wage workers need more power on the job, and that’s what strikers are demanding of McDonald’s. They want procedures for receiving and responding to harassment complaints, mandatory anti-harassment training for managers and employees, and the formation of a national committee to address sexual harassment, composed of workers, representatives from corporate and franchise stores, and leaders of national women’s groups.
In addition to these demands, raising wages is a necessity to fighting sexual harassment. A stronger social safety net would reduce the costs of retaliation for women who come forward; a democratic workers’ organization — in short, a union — would offer a collective vehicle to overcome the high costs of fighting this problem individually.
These workers are up against the company’s war chest. McDonald’s is armed with battalions of PR firms and lawyers and political allies and money, while workers have their numbers and the company’s reliance on them to produce profit. Mcdonald’s responded to today’s action with an announcement that it would be “partnering with Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, RAINN, and the legal-compliance firm Seyfarth Shaw at Work.”
The protests on Tuesday were organized by Fight for $15, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. The group tries to organize fast food workers and advocates improving their pay and working conditions. In May, with the group’s support, 10 McDonald’s employees filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that male supervisors had made unwelcome advances against them and had retaliated against those who complained.
The goal of the protests was to pressure McDonald’s to institute stronger policies to protect workers from sexual harassment at its more than 14,000 stores in the United States. The demands included .
(These are similar to the demands outlined by Tarana Burke.) Note also that the power differential is not only between workers and managers, but between workers and customers:
Holding employers accountable for sexual harassment in the workplace can be difficult, although they can be held liable if workers can show they were forced to work in a hostile environment where their complaints were ignored or dismissed.
The problem is especially acute in restaurants, where policing bad customer behavior can be hard for workers who depend on tips. The challenges are compounded in the fast food sector because major companies may not consider themselves liable for bad behavior at individual stores.
(One obvious way to fix that would be to raise wages and eliminate tips, as some restaurants have successfully done.) From the Intercept:
This sort of endemic work-based abuse — affecting a largely low-wage and precarious workforce — cannot be fought with the tactics with which #MeToo found early success. Celebrated and professionally established women calling out powerful perpetrators gave important voice to the struggle against patriarchal violence and slayed some formidable giants. But it was never scalable as a tactic for workers without an audience and with little leverage over their employers. The decision to strike, therefore, is a crucial deployment of : a collective and visible withdrawal of labor.
From USA Today, a really good round-up:
Kim Lawson had been working the register, taking orders, and bagging burgers at McDonald’s for two years when she says the sexual harassment began.
It was 2017. There were two men – a shift manager who uttered lewd comments and a co-worker who made sexual overtures and touched Lawson inappropriately.
In May, Lawson became one of 10 McDonald’s employees to file a harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And while she says the #MeToo movement “affected me greatly,” that was not the spark that turned the 25-year-old mother based in Kansas City, Missouri, into an activist.
“The fact that I was angry, that’s what made me file,” says Lawson, who helped organize a national one-day strike by McDonald’s workers last month to call out workplace sexual harassment. “It happens to more than just wealthy people, and it’s going to continue to happen as long as no one does anything about it.”
While organizations like like the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which is handling the EEOC case, do good work, I’d argue that they, too, face issues of scale. To their great credit, they understand this:
[F]rom the beginning, [[Time’s Up] said, its mission was to assist all women. In a posted “letter of solidarity,” the group voiced support for its “sisters” in industries ranging from housekeeping to factory work.
“So much of the power of the #MeToo movement comes from … the public outing” of some high-profile harassers and equally well-known accusers, [California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez] says. But there’s less interest “when you have workers that, quite frankly, people don’t care as much about. And you have employers that nobody’s heard of, or supervisors and companies that nobody’s heard of. It just doesn’t have the same … appeal for the broader media.”
Finally, closing with Jacobin:
It’s been a long time since a strike in the US directly targeted sexual harassment. One hundred and six years ago, young women garment workers in Kalamazoo, Michigan walked off their jobs, joining a wave of strikes in the century’s second decade that spread from New York City to Chicago, Boston to Cleveland, Philadelphia to Kalamazoo, and back to Brooklyn.
These strikes were historic because many male labor leaders believed that young women could not organize, and that they would not hold solidarity long enough to wage a successful strike. But the Kalamazoo strike was also groundbreaking because the strikers spoke out about sexual harassment, demanding that foremen be fired for extorting sex from young women workers.
So, a great story, covered reasonably (see also The Nation, the Guardian, The New Republic, the San Francisco Examiner, and Eater, among others). And also absolutely drowned out by the Kavanaugh circus!
Speaking for myself only: Skipping over ideological or polemical issues (“Believe women!”, “a special place in hell”), this was my reaction at seeing the images of protesters on Capitol Hill and in Washington, DC, during the Kavanaugh hearings: I felt “These are my people.” Posture, gestures, facial expressions, clothing, accessories, hair-styles…. A summation of class and cultural markers told me the protesters were the sort of people I would meet in the coffee shop of my university town. Good people, despite their NPR tote bags and trust in the New York Times. Angry people, with a lot to be angry about. Also, the people Thomas Frank anatomizes in Listen, Liberal!. The class of people, in short, from whom I spring and to whom it is my difficult ambition to be a class traitor. When I look at images of the McDonald’s strikers, I do not see my people. However, in the strikers I also see the class of people who, if #MeToo is to achieve more than reformist goals, must and should be, as we say, centered, even as the 10%-ers on The Hill and elsewhere must and should be decentered. In its coverage, the press — themselves good and angry people, my people, 10%-ers — centered Kavanaugh protesters on The Hill, and decentered McDonald’s strikers at the workplace. I think those priorities should be inverted. I don’t think I’ve succeeded at doing that here, because the topic is enormously complicated, but I’d like do my bit and keep at it. My $0.02.
 This shows why a Jobs Guarantee plus checking accounts at a Post Office bank are universal concrete material benefits that would greatly empower working class women.
 Which is odd. From The Intercept: “A 2014 survey from the worker advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that nearly 80 percent of women in the industry had experienced some form of sexual harassment from co-workers, as had . Eighty percent of women and reported sexual harassment from customers. LGBTQ workers were particularly affected, the survey found.” Power is gender fluid….
 See note . And readers know I hate the phrase “safety net.” I don’t see why life should be like a tightrope walk.
 For one thing, there are more of them. For another, their suffering, on the whole and on the average, is greater. See life expectancy figures, or home ownership figures, or health figures, or whatever.
There have also been a rolling series of strikes and industrial actions against McDonald’s in the UK, winning pay-raises, along with strikes against other precariat-style companies like Uber/UberEats, Deliveroo, Wetherspoons, and TGI Fridays; interestingly, #FightFor15 tactics seem to have crossed the Pond. Best headline: “Wetherspoons’ boss Tim Martin accuses pub staff of ‘gunboat diplomacy’ as they join McStrike over pay” (Mirror). That’s the stuff to give the troops!