August 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

COLUMNS

McDonald's has a duty to its workers

Johnson (David Olds)

In a day and age when corporate greed has gone wild when it comes to labor rights, last week’s decision by the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel that McDonald’s Corp. is responsible for the actions of its owner-operator franchisees is as stunning as it is welcome.

Over the past two years, workers at McDonald’s and other fast-food chains in Michigan and across the country have been going on strike, calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. But the corporation, which generates about $5.6 billion in annual profits, and its industry allies have argued that the responsibility for wages and working conditions falls on the shoulder of local franchisees.

This is akin to the NFL saying that wages and working conditions in the league are the sole responsibility of local teams, and the league itself has no responsibility for the working conditions or compensation for the players who wear their uniforms.

Pointing out that McDonald’s corporate headquarters provides everything from software to monitor workers’ hours to rules and regulations regarding food preparation, sanitation and even wages, employees weren’t buying this absurd rationale.

Thankfully, neither did NLRB general counsel Richard F. Griffin Jr. He told the New York Times that he would include McDonald’s as a “joint employer,” a classification that could hold the company responsible for actions taken at thousands of its franchises.

Roughly 90 percent of the chain’s restaurants in the United States are franchise operations, according to the Times.

The fact is, there are more than 50,000 fast-food jobs in the Detroit metro area, more than twice as many as in the auto manufacturing sector. But these jobs are the lowest-paying in Detroit, with many workers earning Michigan’s minimum wage of $7.40 or just above it.

As expected, McDonald’s has vowed to appeal the counsel’s decision all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court if it has to. But the NLRB and workers everywhere know billion-dollar companies like McDonald’s not only work jointly with their franchisees, but can easily afford to pay and treat their employees better.

McDonald’s should save the millions of dollars it plans on spending on appeals and invest it in paying a living wage. When workers are paid a living wage, it strengthens the economy, which is ultimately good for McDonald’s.

Bert Johnson is a state senator in Michigan’s 2nd District.