Hundreds of McDonald's employees in 10 cities across the U.S. held a walkout Tuesday during the lunch hour at the fast-food chains to protest how the company handles sexual harassment complaints.
Workers at some, though not all, McDonald's locations in Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, San Francisco and Durham, North Carolina, participated in what organizers called the first-ever nationwide walkout in protest of sexual harassment.
In a St. Louis suburb, protesters chanted, "Hold your burgers, hold your fries, keep your hands off my thighs." In Chicago, they wore blue duct tape that said "Me Too" over their mouths.
The protest was organized in conjunction with the Fight for $15 labor advocacy group, 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. The group helped 10 McDonald's employees file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May, alleging that male supervisors had made unwelcome advances against them and had retaliated against those who complained.
"We're protesting today and this is more important than work," said Kimberly Lawson, who told The New York Times that she was skipping her shift to take part in the Kansas City rally. Lawson told the crowd there she had felt "trapped" when a manager made unwanted advances.
The goal of the protests was to pressure the Golden Arches to institute stronger policies to protect workers from sexual harassment at its 14,000-plus stores in the U.S. For example, protesters are fighting for better training programs for all workers, a more effective way to report complaints and a committee dedicated to hearing and addressing sexual harassment complaints.
"What McDonald's does on this issue, how they choose to treat it, how they act on it proactively, will have influence on other stores," Mary Joyce Carlson, a lawyer for workers connected to Fight for $15, told the Times.
McDonald's said in a statement that it takes the issue seriously and will be introducing additional measures to provide further protections for workers.
"We have strong policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment," the statement said. "To ensure we are doing all that can be done, we have engaged experts in the areas of prevention and response."
"We are hoping that at the end of this strike, McDonald's upholds and actually enforces its zero-tolerance policy with regard to sexual harassment," Carlson told Eater. "McDonald's should conduct mandatory trainings on sexual harassment for managers and employees. They should create a safe and effective method for receiving — and responding to — complaints from employees who report sexual harassment. We want McDonald's corporate and franchisee reps to participate on a committee with its women workers and leaders of major national women's groups to chart a path forward to end sexual harassment at the company."