Fast Food Workers Union Fights Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination in the Workplace



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 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


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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34 thoughts on “Fast Food Workers Union Fights Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination in the Workplace”

  1. South of Davis

    Sean wrote:

    > The same supervisor sent Maisenbach a text

    > message offering $1,000 for oral sex

    The Folsom McDonalds must pay their supervisors pretty well if they can afford to offer $1K for sex (and they must hire REAL stupid people since “texting” someone you supervise asking for sex gives them proof to get you in trouble if they don’t accept your offer)…

  2. Tia Will


    While this particular example may represent the stupidity of one individual, I can assure you that this does not take away from the ubiquitous nature of this kind of behavior in our culture. Unlike Shaun, as a woman, I experienced these types of behaviors directly.

    I doubt that many males in our society are cautioned by their mothers on how to dress “appropriately” so as not to attract undesired sexual attention. I doubt many males were similarly cautioned about how to politely avoid being in “too close” proximity to our male “superiors” in order to avoid unwanted advances. Most men probably have not learned how to duck under someone’s arm to avoid an unwanted “hug”, or how to pivot quickly away from a male approaching too closely behind us without “making a scene” which of course a woman is always supposed to avoid. A brief aside to some males who may not get the message quickly, when a woman takes these actions, she is not playing “hard to get” or “teasing” you. She is not interested and the best course of action is to cease and desist, not engage further. In the rare case in which she really is interested, she will let you know, so sit back and hope, but do not pursue.

    I have no doubt that women lower on the socioeconomic levels have it much harder ( having been there and watched my own mother practice the above avoidances as she bused tables) but it is not unique to lower economic status. As a medical student I took on sexual harassment directly. At various levels of my career, I have had to use the “duck and cover” strategy to avoid varying levels of inappropriate behavior. I have used the techniques of avoidance, direct individual confrontation, both in private and in public, and of escalation of behaviors to superiors depending on the degree of the transgression.

    The pity is that Shaun is correct. We have structured our society so that some individuals are forced to tolerate these kinds of behaviors in order to feed, clothe, and house themselves and their families. I have two suggestions to improve this situation.

    1. A UBI would make it so that no one, ever, had to submit to someone else’s intolerable behavior just to support themselves and their family.

    2. Teaching our boys and young men ( as well as girls and young women) that every individual regardless of gender, sexual preference, or sartorial taste is their exact equal. No better, no worse, and certainly not there as an object for their sexual or power satisfaction. Would that really be too much to expect ?


    1. hpierce

      Would it be too much to expect that there are consequences for someone who falsely accuses another of sexual harassment?  Either thru ill-will or mental instability?

      I know of someone who was falsely accused, an investigation was opened, then quickly closed (it was ‘laughable’ as to the accused, but the one who complained was harassed, indeed, by ANOTHER individual, but the one harassed didn’t want to admit that it was same-sex harassment, and the original accused was factually innocent). Yet the original person accused had to petition to get the allegation removed from their personnel file.

      1. Tia Will


        Would it be too much to expect that there are consequences for someone who falsely accuses another of sexual harassment?  Either thru ill-will or mental instability?”

        No, it would not be. But that is a separate if correlated issue and should not be used to distract or detract from my original questions.


    2. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > I doubt that many males in our society are cautioned by their

      > mothers on how to dress “appropriately” so as not to attract

      > undesired sexual attention. 

      The reason for this is that not many males in out society WANT to dress in a way to get sexual attention.  Just last week I noticed the Davis High girls cross country team running down F Street and I was thinking “I wish the girls ran around in tiny spaghetti strap jog bras and lycra bikini shorts back when I was on the High School cross country team”.  I bet this guys Mom (like just about every other Mom) told him to “show a little less skin” before he left the house.

      > I doubt many males were similarly cautioned about how to politely

      > avoid being in “too close” proximity to our male “superiors”

      I have told my son to avoid EVER being alone with a girl or woman he is not related to (even if he has to wait for the next elevator).

      > Most men probably have not learned how to duck under

      > someone’s arm to avoid an unwanted “hug”

      This may surprise you but most males hate the creepy “hugger” (and back and butt slapping) guys just as much as females (and use the same duck move to avoid them).

      > I have no doubt that women lower on the socioeconomic levels have it much harder

      They do have it “much harder” just like “men” who are “lower on the socioeconomic levels”…


      1. Delia .

        When does your son get to date? Why raise your son to fear women? Only men I know with that sad attitude are ones that have been falsely accused, which was abhorrent, and I feel very bad for them.

      2. Tia Will


        Good bits of advice for your son. However, judging how I have been treated personally and how I have seen large numbers of my colleagues and other women treated through the years, either you are in the minority, or “our sons” in the societal sense are not listening, or both.

    3. Delia .

      To Tia’s thoughtful post, I’d add that most men have not experienced:

      Riding on public transportation,  having a man continually flirting with zero feedback, and continuing long after I’ve commented “I need to get back to my reading now.” Having to move to another seat.

      Walking somewhere, and strangers telling you to “Smile!”

      As I grow older, I learn how to respond with better results. As I grow older, thankfully, they happen less often.

      1. Frankly

        I actually experienced it quite a bit but I think there is a difference in how different people process and deal with that type of thing.

        There seem to be two dimensions of social existence with respect to workplace sexuality where the same type of actions and banter are accepted in one and is harassment in the other.

        Like for the claims of racism, I think what we originally worked to correct for harm from sexual harassment has been mostly dealt with and now the thing is being exploited and distorted to become just a groupism power tool.  A supervisor demanding sex for a promotion.  True sexual bullying.  These are the terrible instances of sexual harassment that we needed to eliminate.  And we largely have because the true victims of these terrible instances have gained significant power of recourse.   But it has degraded to an expectation that any victim-group member that is irritated about something can claim some “ism” or harassment against them.  It is the rise of the “cry-bully” the lowering of the bar of tolerance to the most sensitive member of any sanctioned victim group.  And then it is just reverse harassment and reverse harm.

        Did Clarence Thomas really sexual harass Anita Hill, or was Anita Hill just hypersensitive to what might be considered normal human interaction and banter?  It was the later… in addition to Anita Hill grandstanding for her career.

        This is really a lawyer thing… lawyers as law-makers making laws that they can then go back to harvest for profit by exploiting the laws they made.

        I worked for a large company with a female HR director that was responsible for requiring endless management training and certification on all of the social justice topics: tolerance, racial bias, sexual harassment, hostile workplace, etc…   But in the big management meetings she was the first to start sexual banter.

        The managers all lived in the dimension of thick skin and acceptance of sexuality in the workplace.  Some will say that it is easy for a manager to have thick skin with the benefit of power, but it wasn’t that… it was those with thin skin would fail to rise to the management ranks.  The company would not let it happen because the company knew how it would destroy the management team comradery that helped make it successful.  Basically the performance requirements for management would filter out those with thin skin.  However, though the managers would banter with each other, there was the requirement to comply with the much more strict rules around staff and within the staff, to minimize legal risk to the company preventing the more hyper-sensitive people living in that other dimension from filing complaints.

        The politicians and lawyers, as they tend to do, have gone too far.

        1. Tia Will


          The politicians and lawyers, as they tend to do, have gone too far.”

          They may have gone to far for you. But from what I still see ongoing in the work place, we as a society have not gone nearly far enough. When there is no need for lawyers to litigate these cases, then we will have gone far enough.

        2. Frankly

          When there is no need for lawyers to litigate these cases, then we will have gone far enough.

          Then train the thin-skinned to grow thicker skin and the hypersensitive to learn how to cope.

        3. Frankly

          So is the person that files a harassment claim against someone after overhearing them tell a joke to another person a victim?

          Is the person that files a claim against a person in another building and another floor of the business after walking by and seeing a calendar with a picture he/she did not like a victim?

          I think when it goes too far those that have a claim filed against them become the victim.

          Unless you are invested in hard-core group identity victim-ology and politics, political correctness… or you are loving your new found power as a law/rule-backed cry-bully.

      1. Delia .

        Have you ever experienced eitther scenario?  Your lack of empathy is sad. Every time someone writes something that you cannot relate to, you have to reply with a different, opposite scenario. Why not try to empathize? Having raised a son, I tried to do that. Have you ever truly tried to imagine yourself in one of the situations Tia or I have described? Not sure you can relate to a woman’s struggle with these issues. Your attitude is, well, men have struggles, too. That’s not really the point here.

      2. Tia Will


         the overall tone of your post is definitely misandrist…  yeah, only males behave badly… got it…”

        Not at all. And is often the case when you are in “snippy” mode, you do not seem to have “got it”.

        You could equally well apply everything that I said to a female employer, superior or coworker harassing a male. However, I believe that if one were to look into the issue objectively, one would find that the majority of offenders happen to be male, and the article to which I was responding was one about female harassment by males. If there is an article on the reverse gender behaviors, I will respond in very similar fashion.

  3. Sam

    What a noble effort. For only $50 per paycheck per worker you are willing to “help” these low income workers. I will do one better for them, I’ll help them for free:

    Dear Fast Food Worker,

    If your manager is grabbing your butt, breast or sending you texts offering you money for sex then go see a lawyer. There are laws that have already been passed that make these actions illegal and if you sue your employer for doing those things you will win a great sum of money quickly. There is no need to pay a union anything before you sue your employer for sexual harassment.


    Captain Obvious

    1. hpierce

      Agree with the gist, but to build a case you need to go up at least one level in the “chain of command” above the purported harasser, to give the employer the opportunity to correct… unless it truly was “assault”, in which case a Police report should be filed, immediately, prior to contacting a lawyer, and enriching them… the first is the civil remedy, the latter is a criminal matter…

    2. Tia Will


      Unless you are willing to include a list of lawyers who will take on this type of work pro bono, then your letter to the food service worker is useless.

    3. Sam

      P.S Lawyers take cases on what is called a contingency basis. Instead of paying the lawyer as they spend time on your case they take a percentage of the cash that the judge makes the company pay you for allowing the continuous sexual harassment.

      Captain Obvious


  4. South of Davis

    I just heard a story on the radio that only one in five millennials have ever had a Big Mac.

    My kids have never had a Big Mac and I’m pretty sure that none of their friends have ever had one either.

    Looking at the way things are going fast food workers should probably be working on ways to get more people to come in and buy the stuff they sell (I said “stuff” rather than “food” on purpose) if they want to keep their jobs.

    P.S. Davis lost the McDonalds in the Save Mart mall (where I saw David in a purple Vanguard T-Shirt last month) a few years back and I just drove by the old South Davis Burger King that is now a Starbucks with a drive through…

      1. South of Davis

        Sean’s other point of the article was to say:

        > Unions are needed now more than ever, especially

        > for these low wage service industries.

        When you are working for a company in a growth industry a union might work out, but when you are working for a company in an industry that is not growing things probably won’t work out well when you push for a union (Google: Hostess Union for what will probably happen)…

  5. Chamber Fan

    “According to a new survey, a whopping 40% of all fast food workers experience sexual harassment on the job. ”

    This is appalling and unfortunately, as usual, none you guys have stayed on topic to drive home the point.

    1. South of Davis

      Chamber fan wrote:

      > This is appalling 

      It is appalling and just like Sam has given some great advice I would like to remind fast food workers that now that everyone has a video camera in their pocket it should be easy to get a half dozen or so videos of a creepy boss assaulting you and your co-workers before you call the cops and press charges.

        1. South of Davis

          Chamber Fan wrote:

          > Because people afraid to report the crime against them are

          > going to whip out their phone and video the assault.  Right.

          More advice to the fast food workers would be to hide a phone on a shelf with the video rolling and/or ask your co-workers to video the criminal boss when he has hid back to them.  My other advice would be to try and get a job at another fast food place where you are “treated with dignity” like Delia did (getting a job at a different fast food place is usually a lot easier than getting a new job as a high school teacher of college professor).  It is sad but many of the same issues that cause people to stay in abusive relationships cause them to keep working for abusive bosses…

    2. Delia .

      Okay, how’s this for being on point? 16 years old, my first job besides babysitting. Jack in the Box. Married manager continually teased me, asking if I was a virgin. Needed the paycheck, so never told my parents. Worried my dad wold have got arrested for beating the cr*p outa the guy if he found out. Got a new job after a few months, at another burger joint where I was treated with dignity.  Best friend worked in a movie theater. Had to quit due to constant unwanted sexual advances from older, creepy manager.

      In the 70’s, we didn’t even have the vocabulary.

  6. Frankly

    Had an female employee that made similar claims against a male employee.  The ensuing HR investigation resulted in finding what I suspected after my questioning… that the female was both in need of significant therapy and was angry that this male employee was dating someone else… and it wasn’t clear if she was making these claims in pure retribution or if she was actually not able to discern the difference between her imagination and reality.   But it was clear that the claims were false.

    However, the male employee had continued to stupidly engage in mutual banter with this female employee so he had some culpability in at least causing her emotional turmoil over their prospective romantic relationship.

    In today’s workplace where all larger employees are staffed with aggressive HR professionals (that tend to be female for some reason…, and the war against all forms of bias and harassment rages at extreme levels.  Because of this, I think any claim that sexual harassment is a big problem in this day and age more likely relates to another phenomenon that is the rise of hyper-sensitivity and the increase number of people afflicted with emotional dysfunction and cognitive dissonance.    I’m not saying that true sexual harassment never happens… just that it is not some growing and large problem.   The latter is the growing and large problem.

  7. Don Shor

    Still trying to figure out what was that magical year when sexism and racism ended. Suffice to say, if 40%+ of fast-food employees still find themselves being sexually harassed, evidently some man-agers didn’t get the memo.

  8. Tia Will

    Frankly, because I am, I find the idea that because someone can name a single incident in which a female employee made a claim of harassment that was determined to be factually false, or because HR departments exist in large corporations, or because lawsuits can be brought if you have the time, money to engage an attorney and are not afraid of losing your job on some other pretext while the case is wending its very uncertain way through court, that we do not have a problem with sexual harassment in the work place absurd. Or perhaps self serving. Or perhaps simply a matter of denial because it does not fit in with the preconceived notion that managers, supervisors, business owners or other people in charge of others must be superior simply because they have achieved a position of relative power. In any event, I find this to be a very narrow minded view of a very real current problem in our society.

  9. Tia Will


    Then train the thin-skinned to grow thicker skin and the hypersensitive to learn how to cope.”

    Really ! This from the same poster who stated that he believed that Colin Kaepernick had been incentive to the feelings of others !

    Just let me get this straight. You believe that it is insensitive to make a symbolic action that some ( although far from all) find disrespectful of the flag, and yet women who are insulted, demeaned, and groped in the work place…..and yes, this does still happen whether you want to believe it or not, should just grow a thicker skin since after all it is no longer a major problem in our society. Did I get that right, or did I misrepresent your position ?


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