CHICAGO -- McDonald's has responded to mounting complaints about sexual harassment with employee training programs and a new anonymous reporting hotline.
The Chicago-based fast food chain sent a letter Monday to Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth detailing its efforts, in response to a letter Duckworth sent the company in December expressing her concerns about multiple sexual harassment complaints made by its restaurant employees.
On Tuesday, the Fight for $15 announced the filing of 25 new sexual harassment charges with a federal agency and lawsuits against McDonald's, bringing the total to 50 since the union-backed advocacy group started calling out McDonald's on the topic three years ago.
The complaints filed Tuesday allege employees, some as young as 16 years old, were subjected to groping, indecent exposure, propositions for sex and lewd comments by supervisors in both corporate and franchise restaurants across 20 cities, including Chicago.
The complaints allege that repeated efforts by workers to seek assistance from management were ignored or mocked. Some workers saw their hours reduced, were disciplined or fired after they complained, the advocacy group claims. McDonald's said it had no comment beyond the letter it sent Monday.
"For three years, we've been speaking out, filing charges and even going on strike to get McDonald's to confront its sexual harassment problem," said a statement from Tanya Harrell, a McDonald's worker from Louisiana who alleges a coworker attempted to rape her in a bathroom stall. "But these new charges show that nothing has changed. We cannot wait any longer for action."
Duckworth's office has been meeting with McDonald's for months to get updates and push the company to improve working conditions, said Duckworth spokesman Sean Savett.
McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook, in his letter to Duckworth Monday, said the company started working last year with RAINN, a leading anti-sexual violence organization, to enhance its policies to more clearly define sexual harassment, provide examples of unacceptable behavior, and underscore how employees can report a complaint if they don't feel comfortable going to their manager. In the fall, it rolled out training, facilitated by a third party, on how to spot and prevent sexual harassment, and 90% of its corporate and franchise operators and general managers have taken it, he said.
McDonald's has 14,000 restaurants in the U.S., and 95% of them are franchises.
More initiatives will launch this summer, Easterbrook wrote. Starting in June the company will offer operators use of an anonymous hotline for reporting complaints, and in the next two months it will hold conversations with workers to further strengthen its policies and trainings. This August front-line staff will start receiving training during their shifts about harassment, unconscious bias and safety.
The Fight for $15 group, which is working with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, planned to announce the new complaints Tuesday during a protest outside McDonald's West Loop headquarters that will feature TV host and activist Padma Lakshmi. Fifteen women are filing charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the other five are filing lawsuits in the courts.
The advocacy groups said they were unimpressed with McDonald's efforts to address the problem.
"The majority of our clients allege harassment occurring precisely when the company claims it was making these reforms, and we can find no one who has heard of a new policy or training initiative," Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Women's Rights Project, said in a news release from the Fight for $15 group. "The measures that McDonald's claims to have implemented, or to have in the works, are better than nothing, but the company has yet to commit to meting out consequences for stores, whether corporate-owned or franchised, where harassment continues to flourish."
Workers want mandatory training for managers and employees, enforcement of the zero-tolerance policy stated in employee handbooks and a sit-down meeting between workers and McDonald's to establish a plan, according to the news release. The movement, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union, has organized protests and strikes across the country since 2012 to put pressure on McDonald's and other fast-food companies to improve their pay and working conditions.
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