McDonald’s accused of firing worker who sued over Covid-19 claims
INTERNATIONAL - McDonald’s was accused of firing a Chicago restaurant worker in retaliation for joining a lawsuit that claimed the company failed to protect employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ryan Freeman was terminated “in an effort to discourage other employees from engaging in” legally protected activism, according to a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that the Service Employees International Union said it filed on Wednesday. The union provided a copy to Bloomberg News.
Freeman was one of five employees who sued McDonald’s last month in Illinois state court over working conditions at restaurants during the pandemic. Similar lawsuits have been filed by workers in other “essential” industries during stay-home orders, including by those at an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse in New York.
While Freeman worked at a restaurant owned by a McDonald’s franchisee, the NLRB claim also targets the corporation itself as a “joint employer” -- a company with sufficient control to be legally liable.
In an emailed statement, McDonald’s USA said that it maintains strict policies against retaliation. The company also provided an emailed statement from Akins Akinnagbe, the franchise owner of the restaurant where Freeman worked, saying that upon recently acquiring the site, his organization had “followed our normal hiring process” and chosen to hire about half of the staff who had previously been working there.
In a filing Thursday, SEIU alleged that Freeman had been told in late May by management that he would be among those retained, and then, after testifying in a court hearing on his lawsuit, instead was terminated.
In their lawsuit last month, Freeman and the others accused McDonald’s and franchise owners of violating state nuisance and negligence laws. They claimed they didn’t get adequate safety training, were forced to work in close contact with each other and were told to reuse protective gloves. The company has said that it had updated nearly 50 safety procedures since the pandemic, including providing wellness checks, protective barriers, gloves and masks.
The McDonald’s lawsuit was filed with the help of the SEIU, whose “Fight For $15 and a Union” campaign has been working for years to organize employees at McDonald’s and the rest of the nearly union-free fast-food industry. SEIU alleges Freeman was fired for his participation in the lawsuit and a strike over safety issues.
Freeman and McDonald’s workers in Chicago are planning strikes and protests targeting the company’s restaurants in conjunction with the Movement for Black Lives on Friday, the “Juneteenth” holiday that commemorates the abolition of slavery.
“McDonald’s unequivocally supports the need for racial equality and social justice and stands with Black communities across the globe where we are proud to offer employment opportunities and learn from our team members to make the McDonald’s System stronger,” the company said in its statement Thursday.
“On the one hand, McDonald’s tweets that Black Lives Matter, and on the other it fires a Black worker for speaking out about feeling unsafe on the job,” Allynn Umel, the organizing director of the “Fight for $15 and a Union” campaign, said in an emailed statement.Bloomberg