business

McDonald’s Wants to End Potential Landmark Workplace Case

Lawyers for employees who say they were fired for seeking higher wages claim the NLRB is trying to avoid a pro-worker precedent.

Fast-food workers and union members protest outside a McDonald's restaurant in Oakland, California, on Feb. 12.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McDonald’s and the U.S. National Labor Relations Board asked an agency judge to approve the settlement of a long-running workplace-retaliation case, cutting short a trial that could lead to increased corporate liability for alleged wrongdoing by franchisees.

The trial, which was to resume Monday after a two-month delay, stems from claims by McDonald’s franchise employees that they were fired for joining a national effort to obtain a $15 hourly wage, the so-called Fight For $15 movement backed by the Service Employees International Union. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Saturday joined attorneys for the union-backed Fast Food Workers Organizing Committee in accusing the labor board’s Trump-appointed general counsel, Peter Robb, of wrongly rushing to settle the case on terms favorable to McDonald’s.

“Donald Trump’s NLRB is trying to railroad workers into terrible settlements and let corporations violating labor laws off the hook,” Warren said in a statement.

“A settlement that provides full relief on all the substantive unfair labor practice charges at issue in this case, and that avoids years of additional litigation that would otherwise delay whatever relief is ultimately determined, is more than reasonable,” a McDonald’s attorney said in a motion filed Monday. The NLRB didn’t respond to a request for comment on the filing.

The court didn’t immediately rule on the request.

“Today’s proposal by McDonalds is not a settlement. In a real settlement, McDonald’s would take responsibility” for the alleged actions of its franchisees, said Micah Wissinger, an attorney for the Fast Food Workers Organizing Committee. “We look forward to presenting our objections to the judge.”

The trial began in 2016 and was nearing completion in January, when the NLRB sought a 60-day stay in hopes of securing a settlement. A key issue in the dispute is whether McDonald’s has enough control over its franchisees to be considered a “joint employer” that workers at franchised stores can bring claims against.

The settlement does not include a determination that McDonald's is a “joint employer” of the workers.

Matt Haller, a senior vice president at the International Franchise Association, whose members include McDonald’s, said Monday that the controversy demonstrates the need for Congress to pass a law establishing a more limited view of “joint employer” liability. “We are pulling out all the stops to try to ensure that there is an opportunity to get that done,” he said. “It’s been six years since this uncertainty and wild goose chase began.”

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