Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday July 31st, 2014, 12:33pm

Chicago Fast Food Workers Celebrate NLRB's McDonald's Ruling (VIDEO)

Chanting "Who's the boss? McDonald's!," a group of fast food workers rallied in Chicago on Thursday in response to this week's decision by the National Labor Relations Board's top lawyer, who found that McDonald's could be held liable as an employer in unfair labor practice complaints filed against their franchisees.

The decision issued Tuesday by the NLRB general counsel came in response to unfair labor practice charges brought against McDonald’s and its franchised restaurants in a number of cities, including Chicago, since November of 2012, when fast food workers in New York participated in the first strike against the fast food industry. Among other allegations, the complainants say McDonald's retaliated against workers for organizing.

Though the ruling is preliminary, McDonald's employee Nancy Salgado, who works in the city's Logan Square neighborhood, said fast food workers — who are fighting for $15 an hour and a union — are ecstatic about the decision. 

"All along, we know that corporate is the one in charge of McDonald's [franchised stores], in charge of the workers," Salgado said at Thursday's rally, held outside of the Rock N Roll McDonald's at 600 N. Clark St. "They're always trying to hide from us and say, 'We have nothing to do with (labor practices at the franchises) ... The owner deals with you."

"We know now ... that corporate is the boss of McDonald's," she added. "For us that is a very, very big victory." 

Here's more from Salgado and scenes from rally:

Deivid Rojas, spokesman for the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC), a union representing fast food and retail employees in the Windy City, said the NLRB ruling "completely undermines" assertions by the corporation that it does not have influence over wages and other employment matters at its franchised restaurants. About 12,500 of the approximately 14,000 McDonald's stores in the United States are owned by franchisees. 

"This completely legitimizes what workers have been saying all along — that corporate is also a boss," he said at today's event, attended by about 20 McDonald's employees and their allies. "This is a huge win for workers."

McDonald's plans to contest the ruling, which "goes against decades of established law regarding the franchise model in the United States" and could also have implications for "thousands of small businesses," Heather Smedstad, senior vice president of human resources at McDonald’s USA, said in a statement Tuesday.

Smedstad's statement adds that McDonald's "does not direct or co-determine the hiring, termination, wages, hours, or any other essential terms and conditions of employment of our franchisees’ employees – which are the well-established criteria governing the definition of a 'joint employer.'"

Labor law experts were quick to react to Tuesday's decision.

Michael Fischl, professor of law at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said in a statement, "McDonald's is trying to have it both ways when it comes to its relationship with employees working in stores bearing its name."

"On the one hand, in order to protect its 'brand,' the mother ship micromanages virtually every aspect of day-to-day operations, from food preparation to customer service and everything in between," he said. 

"On the other hand, in order to circumvent the rights of its employees under the National Labor Relations Act, it proclaims that it is 'shocked, shocked,' that anyone would think it actually exerts such extensive control over its franchised stores. The general counsel's determination to treat McDonald's as a 'joint employer' suggests that going forward the NLRB will be paying more attention to what franchisors are doing than to what they say they are doing," Fischl concluded.

Meanwhile, Mark Barenberg, professor of law at Columbia Law School, said the NLRB general counsel's decision "has the potential to upend the fast food industry's decades-long strategy of 'outsourcing' legal responsibility to franchisees when it comes to securing workers' rights."

"Companies like McDonald's insert an intermediary between themselves and workers, even though they're manifestly in control of the franchisees' employment decisions," he added in a statement. "The general counsel's decisions leaves no doubt that franchise workers are McDonald's employees."

Workers with WOCC and the Fight for 15 movement have been calling on McDonald's, and other fast food corporations, to voluntarily recognize their union and pay them a $15 an hour wage.

When asked whether the "joint-employer" ruling, if it holds, could pave the way for workers to win a union, Rojas said, "I think it's too early to talk about elections."

"This is a huge and historic ruling that could affect McDonald's business model, but it's definitely going to help with the organizing effort and with the union, and I think it's a huge victory for workers, especially workers working in McDonald's," he added.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a number of aldermen, meanwhile, are supporting a pending ordinance introduced at Wednesday's council meeting that would gradually increase the city's minimum wage from the current $8.25 an hour to $13 an hour by 2018.

While the $13 an hour proposal is a step forward, South Side McDonald's worker Brittney Berry said she and her coworkers cannot afford to wait until 2018 for that pay bump.

"That's a long time," she said. "I think we need the pay now, because we're struggling now."

Berry gets paid $8.30 an hour, five cents more than the state's minimum wage. Her employer, she said, keeps her just under full-time hours. Berry, who has a two year-old daughter, said she can barely make ends meet.

"I'm struggling paycheck to paycheck," she said, adding that in some instances she has to decide between paying her electricity bill or buying diapers for her daughter. "It's really frustrating and depressing."

Cecilia Velazquez, who works at the Rock N Roll McDonald's, said $13 an hour would be a "great victory" for fast food workers in Chicago, but it is "not enough."

"We're still going to fight for $15," Velazquez stressed. 

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