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McDonald's could be liable for labor practices

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 29, 2014 at 4:34 pm •  Published: July 29, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald's is finding itself under intensifying pressure for the pay and other labor practices at its U.S. restaurants.

The National Labor Relations Board said Tuesday that the world's biggest hamburger chain could be named as a joint employer in several complaints by worker groups at restaurants owned by franchisees. The decision is pivotal because it could expose McDonald's Corp. to liability for a wide range of working conditions in those locations.

It also comes as protests for higher pay have captured national attention, with labor groups calling for pay of $15 an hour and the right to unionize. Organizers had been pushing to get McDonald's named as a joint employer at franchised restaurants, a move intended to give them a more centralized and powerful target.

"There's really no doubt who's in charge," said Micah Wissinger, an attorney who brought a case on behalf of McDonald's workers in New York City.

McDonald's and other chains including Burger King and Yum, which owns Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, have repeatedly sought to distance themselves from the pay protests by saying they don't determine wages at its franchised locations.

In the U.S., the vast majority of McDonald's more than 14,000 restaurants are owned and operated by franchisees. The same is true for many other fast-food chains.

Heather Smedstad, senior vice president of human resources for McDonald's USA, said in a phone interview that the company has never been determined to be a joint employer in the past and that it would fight the decision by the labor board.

"This is such a radical departure that it should be a concern to business men and women across the country," she said.

Still, labor organizers say McDonald's should be held accountable because the company has so much control in setting the terms of operations in its restaurants, such as what menus, supplies, uniforms and training materials are used.

In March, lawsuits on behalf of McDonald's workers in three states also detailed use of company software that monitors the ratio of labor costs as a percentage of sales at its restaurants. When that ratio climbs above a target, workers were forced to wait around before they could clock in, according to the suits.

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