Very soon, we'll find out from the National Labor Relations Board just how much responsibility corporations bear for the actions of franchises operating under their auspice — and hopefully we'll see the veil lifted from the whole charade.
The NLRB is considering a case brought before them by nine workers at separate McDonald's restaurants in New York City who allege that they were fired for union involvement. The case also alleges that McDonald's suspended employees, cut their hours, and threatened to fire them for the same reason.
As Bloomberg notes, this particular case may deal with alleged retaliation, but the issue at the heart of the matter is, as always, wages. If the NLRB finds that the McDonald's corporation bears partial responsibility for the actions of franchises operating under its name and likeness, it paves the way for union efforts regarding unfair wages to take on the company directly, as it would no longer be able to hide behind the veneer having no wage control over its erstwhile subordinates.
McDonald's claim that they have no power to exert pressure on their franchises is, of course, complete bullshit. The company exerts an abnormal amount of control over its franchisees compared to other corporations, even going so far as to own the real estate on which its restaurants are built and then charge the franchisees rent. Meanwhile, they make it very clear that if franchisees complain about anything, their contracts will not be renewed. According to former McDonald's executive Richard Adams:
"McDonald's franchisees are pretty compliant...They don't really organize, they don't really protest. And if you do, they tell you you're not a good member of the McFamily. I don't want to make this seem too Orwellian, but the average franchisee has about six restaurants, and the franchise agreement is for 20 years. You're probably going to have a renewal coming up. If you're not a compliant member of the team, you're probably not going to get that renewal."
The International Franchise Association is whinging about the potential NLRB decision through op-eds in anti-consumer, pro-autocrat mediums, but that's to be expected. Franchising has always been a convenient dodge, a way for a corporation to make money while distancing itself from any of the negative repercussions of its franchisees, and nowhere is this more true than with McDonald's. "The franchisee relationship is a smokescreen so corporations don't have to take responsibility for paying more," says Mary Kay Henry, the head of the Service Employees International Union, the organization underwriting the Strike for $15 protests.
Make no mistake — when it comes to franchises, McDonald's is really pulling the strings. Hopefully, the NLRB will decide that we finally get to see the face of the puppeteers.
Image via saknakorn/Shutterstock.