Following allegations that the franchises of parent company McDonalds USA LLC violated the rights of employees to protest employment conditions, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that McDonald’s, USA, LLC is a joint employer and bears some responsibility for the complaints. The move could have wide-ranging implications on the potential unionization of fast food workers, and authorizes complaints against the multibillion-dollar McDonald’s parent company rather than individual franchisers.

Since 2012, the NLRB has seen 181 cases involving McDonalds in which employees say they were mistreated, penalized or let go following pro-labor protests and activities seeking to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers. Sixty-eight of those cases were found to be meritless, and another 64 are still pending investigations. However, in 43 of those cases in which parties could not reach settlements with the franchises employing them, the NLRB has now authorized plaintiffs to bring complaint against McDonalds USA LLC as a joint-employer.

In the 43 cases that have been cleared, employees argued that because of the requirements, rules and operating procedures that McDonald’s, USA, LLC imposes on each of franchises, the parent company is intrinsically tied to each of the locations and bears some of the responsibility for the treatment of its workers. The NLRB agreed.


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“McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the N.L.R.B. shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,” said Micah Wissinger, a lawyer who filed complaints on behalf of several McDonald’s employees in New York, in an interview with the New York Times. “The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.”

McDonald’s has previously contended that because many of those employed under the company’s name are on the books as workers of the franchise rather than the parent company, they are not responsible for labor issues at individual locations. According to the New York Times, roughly 90 percent of the workers at McDonald’s restaurants are employed by franchises, temp agencies or contractors. This move could make workers employees of a single corporation, and theoretically pave the way for unionization.

McDonald’s likely to continue using that defense when the 43 cases go to court later this year. If those cases rule in favor of the workers, the company is likely to appeal their designation as a “joint-employer” to the NLRB.