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

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

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.”

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.”

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  1. cnchal

    > Sara Nelson . . . . “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.”

    Wanna know how to make that lever of power so rubbery that it snaps back into McDonalds’ face?

    Bernie or bust.

    1. Danny

      Make sure your car doesn’t “break down” at the pick up window in your local McDonald’s drive- through, Brer Rabbit.

      So what’s wrong with suing the franchise owners for wage and labor violations? They have far fewer resources than the mother ship.

  2. Phillip Allen

    But in the end we will win because together we are unstoppable.

    I know people have to say such things pour encourager les autres, and I used to believe it, too. Time and experience have taught me that complete failure and total defeat are quite possible, and it serves no one to avoid accepting those possibilities. There is no inevitable arc of history nor ‘progress’; these are stories we tell ourselves to make us feel better. In an era of inescapable contraction and collapse, such stories make it harder to do the necessary work required to preserve something of human skill sets and knowledge for the long night that is coming.

    This is an old, cynical dog barking. Your results may vary.

    1. Big River Bandido

      This morning’s all around bad news makes me feel as you.

      OTOH, it’s always darkest before the storm.

    2. jrs

      “In an era of inescapable contraction and collapse, such stories make it harder to do the necessary work required to preserve something of human skill sets and knowledge for the long night that is coming.”

      honestly I don’t see why this isn’t also a story we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better, maybe there is no human future for any skill sets or knowledge to be of use in anyway (ie human extinction).

      In the meantime I don’t know why that particular hope is any more appealing than any other at least much more immediate and concrete hope (like improving working conditions at McDonald’s and other political changes).

      Companies do what they do and is in their nature, I don’t know how much even boycott possibilities there are, as how many sympathetic people even eat that garbage food, albeit affordable garbage, need more class consciousness for that maybe. And the working class can do what it can do which is what the salts are about.

    3. False Solace

      1) If the rich didn’t control the system to ensure they win almost all the time, they wouldn’t be rich.

      2) Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. If you lie down and let them stomp you, they’ll never stop.

  3. Watt4Bob

    Franchises like McDonalds exist to create a firewall that precludes the demands of workers becoming a problem for the corporate owners.

    Franchisees main job is to assure that all issues related to labor remain localized at the store level, the only person a McDonalds employee can complain to is their store manager.

    It’s sort of a pyramid scheme and to move up the ladder it is necessary franchisees to demonstrate solid adherence to the plan, and the plan is based entirely on holding labor under the thumb, or if necessary, under the heel of the jack-boot.

  4. inode_buddha

    Best way for McDonalds employees to deal with this, is to ensure that McDonalds has no employees and can’t get any. On a city-by-city basis.

  5. FDR Liberal

    Why do Homo sapiens decide to eat at McDonald’s given their unhealthy menu choices , labor practices and less than satisfactory customer service?

    1. Angie Neer

      Fat, salt, sugar, cheap, fast. And when you’re done, you throw the bag out the car window. It’s not complicated.

  6. dk

    I like Bernie, but has anyone though ahead to what a Sanders presidency would look like, how it’s supposed to work?

    “But in the end we will win because together we are unstoppable.” That’s only when labor takes action, slowdowns and strikes. Active negotiation doesn’t just happen even after unions are established.

    And yes there has been an increase in strike and other significant labor action in the last few years, after decades. But strikes require preparation on the part of workers, saving up in advance to be able to weather a period without paychecks.

    And Sanders has been clear throughout that he will need popular grassroots-style support from the national constituency after his election, to actively pressure representatives to follow through on his legislative initiatives. How far does this go? Will a President Sanders call for labor actions directly, even a general strike? Considering the recent interest in presidential impeachment, it seems to me that such calls can easily be construed as high crimes by certain interests and entities in positions to make their sentiments felt by the same representatives.

    But is President Bernie going to be publicly calling for strikes?

  7. Watt4Bob

    We’ve been this way before.

    FDR said “Go out and make me do it”.

    Sorry, but this is from huffpoland;

    FDR once met with a group of activists who sought his support for bold legislation. He listened to their arguments for some time and then said, “You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”

    Even in the middle of the Depression, Roosevelt understood that the more effectively people created a sense of urgency and crisis, the easier it would be for him to push for progressive legislation — what we now call the New Deal. FDR used his bully pulpit, including radio addresses, to educate Americans about the problems the nation faced, to explain why the country needed bold action to address the crisis, and to urge them to make their voices heard.

    Having a president who inspires people to act collectively on their own behalf can make a difference. It gives people hope and courage to defy obstacles.

    I think LBJ said much the same thing to MLK;

    LBJ: It’s just an impossible period. We’ve got a budget coming up that’s—we’ve got nothing to do with it; it’s practically already made. And we’ve got a civil rights bill that hadn’t even passed the House, and it’s November, and Hubert Humphrey told me yesterday everybody wanted to go home. We’ve got a tax bill that they haven’t touched. We just got to let up—not let up on any of them and keep going and–

    MLK: Yes.

    LBJ: –I guess they’ll say that I’m repudiated. But I’m going to ask the Congress Wednesday to just stay there until they pass them all. They won’t do it. But we’ll just keep them there next year until they do, and we just won’t give up an inch.

    MLK: Uh-uh. Well this is mighty fine. I think it’s so imperative. I think one of the great tributes that we can pay in memory of President Kennedy is to try to enact some of the great, progressive policies that he sought to initiate.

    LBJ: Well, I’m going to support them all, and you can count on that. And I’m going to do my best to get other men to do likewise, and I’ll have to have y’all’s help.

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