Those of you who know me well understand just how important the #FightFor15 movement is to me. For several years, I have been fighting side by side with fast food workers, adjunct faculty, home health care workers, farm workers, and security workers in their efforts to make the world a better place for all people, not just those with wealth and power. What is not widely known is that the #FightFor15 movement has become about much more than living wages. The movement is now fighting the root causes of systematic economic, gender and racial inequalities in America and abroad. The #FightFor15 has adopted a platform addressing these issues. (You can read the whole thing here http://www.moralrevival.org/moraldeclaration). While the fight for a 15 dollar an hour wage has been won here in California, and I am proud of how far our movement has come, we is still a long way to go until every worker in America can have dignity in the workplace.
Wednesday, October 5th the Fast Food Workers Union filed a series of complaints against corporate giant McDonalds with the EEOC (The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination), alleging both corporate and franchise owned McDonalds stores routinely ignore worker’s sexual harassment complaints, and worse yet, retaliate against those who have the courage to speak out. Sadly, sexual harassment in the fast food industry is a common occurrence.
According to a new survey, a whopping 40% of all fast food workers experience sexual harassment on the job. The fast-food survey, conducted by Hart Research Associates, also shows that 42 percent of women in the industry who experience unwanted sexual behavior feel forced to accept it because they can’t afford to lose their jobs. More than one in five women who face sexual harassment (21 percent) report that, after raising the issue, their employer took some negative action, including cutting their hours, changing them to a less desirable schedule, giving them additional duties, and being denied a raise.
Yesterday, I joined 60 or so fast food workers, women’s rights advocates, clergy, and labor leaders in a national day of action to fight the sexual harassment in fast food restaurants like McDonalds that happens all across America. This action was part of a thirty six state effort, in an attempt to raise awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace. We heard testimonials from female workers about their terrible working conditions, including the daily sexual harassment. A whopping 40% of all fast food workers experience sexual harassment on the job. Here is an excerpt of what one Sacramento area worker had to say. (If you are someone who is sensitive to descriptions of sexual harassment, please skip the next paragraph)
“Folsom, Calif. McDonald’s worker Kristi Maisenbach alleges her supervisor, “grabbed [her] breasts on several occasions and would intentionally rub his genitals against [her] butt.” The same supervisor sent Maisenbach a text message offering $1,000 for oral sex and became hostile to her when she complained to her general manager. Her hours were reduced and she was forced to quit because she could no longer make a living at McDonald’s. She continued:
“The lesson was clear: speak out, and you’ll face the punishment,” Maisenbach said
She later told the crowd that she endured these bodily degradations because she really needed the money to save for nursing school and provide for her family. After Kristi spoke, and transgender man spoke about the hostile work environment he faces every day. Constant groping, snickering, harassment and homophobia makes work miserable for him. Yet he still needs that job. Whenever he speaks out, he fears his housing security for him and his family will be at risk. No one should have to deal with constant harassment for being who they are at work.
Can you imagine working in those conditions? Enduring degradations from supervisors on a daily basis, just so your children do not go hungry? What kind of culture tolerates this kind of behavior? Evidently the answer is the toxic corporate culture of McDonalds and their ilk who prioritize profits and power over basic human dignity. What kind of company retaliates against women who complain about these egregious bodily violations instead of the perpetrators?
I chatted with Kristi Maisenbach for a few minutes after her speech. She told me the day she filed a complaint with McDonalds, she was promised she would not have to work with her abuser ever again. The very next day, he was in the store, directly supervising her, continuing his disgusting behavior on the clock.
Unions are needed now more than ever, especially for these low wage service industries. There are those who say the need for unions is over, that they have become obsolete. I would ask those detractors: “Who else is standing up for these workers?” Organizing a Union and public protest have become their only tools to push for change, because their bosses are too concerned with their bottom line to deal with the very real concerns of their workers. You know, the people that make the company all that money. We live in 2016, and it is long past time that women can live and work in peace without fear of being objectified, harassed or sexually assaulted.
Writing this article was somewhat challenging for me. I am a white man, who has not personally experienced sexual harassment of any kind at work, or experienced violations of bodily integrity by a supervisor. I have not experienced fear of losing my job for speaking up about problems on the job. I have no idea what it is like to fear my boss calling ICE as retaliation for reporting violations. I have the protections of a Union contract, due process, and access to legal services should I need it. These workers do not have those options available to them. To that end, I have tried to emphasize the voice of these women in the workplace, who have experienced these daily degradations and minimize my own voice. I can only imagine the difficulties faced by these workers, and be the best ally I can be. I ask you, the reader to do the same.
Sean Raycraft is a lifelong Davis resident, and a proud Shop Steward with UFCW 8