The news has primarily focused on the effects of the #MeToo movement in high-profile industries. The numerous falls from grace of once-prominent men (and occasionally women) in politics, comedy, and film have percolated throughout news cycles for the last twelve months. Often, the women reporting the harassment or assault had their careers stunted or completely derailed by their harassers, typically (but not universally) men who were in a position of power. But on September 18 a group of women who have been previously largely overlooked came forward. Fast-food workers from McDonald’s chains in ten different cities went on strike to protest both the sexual harassment they endure, and the indifference with which their complaints are met.
Fast-food workers, and other service industry workers, are no strangers to sexual harassment. According to the Atlantic 10 female McDonald’s employees in nine different cities filed complaints for sexual harassment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in May of 2018. Industries that rely on tipping culture often have a harder time policing sexual harassment, as many workers fear speaking out against malfeasance and consequently diminishing the tip the customer would give.
A website dedicated to the workers’ protest reports that women are done with, “Groping. Lewd comments. Propositions for sex,” and being ignored, fired, or retaliated against when they bring these issues to management. Many advocacy groups—such as Fight for $15, Women’s March, National Women’s Law Center, and others—cosigned a letter in support of the women, and protesting their treatment. The website also lists the workers’ demands, such as strengthening and enforcing a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, better sexual harassment training for managers and employees, and formation of a committee made up of workers, McDonald’s representatives, and advocacy group representatives to create an action plan to eliminate the presence of sexual harassment at McDonald’s.
In a statement, McDonald’s said that they believe they already have strong policies for combatting sexual harassment in place, but they are hiring experts to review them, and to ensure they are doing all that they can. The problem becomes more complicated when you take into account that many McDonald’s locations are franchises, meaning McDonalds has less liability and control—though neither is sacrificed completely.
Women working in lower-paying fast-food jobs have less of a platform to express their stories and less economic flexibility to take steps that may threaten their jobs. Thus, many of these problems are relegated to the slow justice of enforcement agencies like the EEOC. Oprah Winfrey, in her acceptance speech for the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille award of outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment made sure to pay attention to this lost class of women:
“But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”