The McDonald’s cashier was 15 years old when an older colleague told her “you have a nice body,” according to a complaint she filed earlier this year.
“Have you ever had white chocolate inside you?” the man continued, according to the complaint.
The situation is all too familiar, McDonald’s employees say, and that’s why employees in 10 U.S. cities are planning a one-day strike on Tuesday to protest what they say is a culture of sexual harassment at the fast food giant.
McDonald's said it already had anti-harassment policies in place.
"We have strong policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment," a McDonald's spokesperson told The Daily Beast. "To ensure we are doing all that can be done, we have engaged experts in the areas of prevention and response, including RAINN, to evolve our policies so everyone who works at McDonald’s does so in a secure environment every day."
The strikes will see workers walk out of restaurants in Chicago, Durham, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando, San Francisco, and St. Louis, the Associated Press reported. Many of those locations correspond with McDonald’s franchises named in a series of sexual harassment complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against McDonald’s in May.
Those complaints include that of the 15-year-old cashier, who worked in St. Louis. McDonald’s workers aren’t just subject to sexual harassment, the complaints allege. They also accuse the company of ignoring reports of sexual harassment, or even mocking workers who file complaints.
“You will never win that battle,” the 15-year-old’s manager allegedly told her when she reported her colleague’s comments. The teenager and nine other McDonald’s employees received financial support for their cases by the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, which is run by the National Women’s Law Center.
“Sexual harassment is pervasive across the fast food industry, where over a million workers—especially women of color—face abuse as a routine part of their job,” Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC president said in a statement announcing the complaints in May. “This sort of harassment puts working people in a no win situation—forced to choose between a paycheck and speaking up about the abuse.”
A former McDonald’s employee at a Chicago restaurant says that choice was literal, after her manager offered to show her his penis and asked “how many penises she could take,” according to her complaint with the EEOC. She was fired after she reported her manager, she alleges.
Another employee who filed an EEOC complaint said when she reported a colleague for groping her, her manager suggested she take it to the “next level” with him. She gave up reporting incidents to management, and was too discouraged to file a complaint when a different employee tried to sexually assault her in a restaurant bathroom.
Several of the complainants have gone on to organize the Tuesday strike. One worker, 22-year-old Tanya Harrell, filed an EEOC complaint accusing her managers of mocking her when she reported a colleague for persistent harassment at her New Orleans restaurant.
She and fellow strikers will spend Tuesday demanding a more muscular response to sexual harassment at McDonald’s, including mandatory anti-harassment training. The strikers, who planned the action through committees of women employees, are also demanding a seat at the corporate table: they want a national committee of McDonald’s workers to meet and address the franchise’s sexual harassment problem.
The strike also comes with support from activists lobbying for a $15 minimum wage. When the NWLC represented McDonald’s employees in their sexual harassment complaints in May, the organization highlighted the difficulty low-income workers face in bringing legal challenges against massive corporations like McDonald’s.
When workers like Harrell go on strike on Tuesday, they’ll be slowing the gears of a multi-billion dollar company. Harrell makes $8.15 an hour.
Harrell told AP that McDonald’s public responses to sexual harassment were little more than damage control.
"They want people to think they care, but they don't care," she said.