Labor

Will NLRB Ruling on McDonald's Franchises Speed Up Low-Wage Job Automation?

|

If there isn't an app for this, there will be soon.
Credit: Consumerist Dot Com / photo on flickr

Chalk up what will probably be a Pyrrhic victory for service employee unions, should the decision stand. Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has determined that McDonald's, the corporation, can be can be classified as a joint employer connected to complaints by employees who work for McDonald's franchises. The coverage of the decision has quickly produced more verbiage than the declaration itself, which is pretty short and actually isn't much about the "joint employer" declaration:

The National Labor Relations Board Office of the General Counsel has investigated charges alleging McDonald's franchisees and their franchisor, McDonald's, USA, LLC, violated the rights of employees as a result of activities surrounding employee protests.  The Office of the General Counsel found merit in some of the charges and no merit in others.  The Office of the General Counsel has authorized complaints on alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act.  If the parties cannot reach settlement in these cases, complaints will issue and McDonald's, USA, LLC will be named as a joint employer respondent. 

The National Labor Relations Board Office of the General Counsel has had 181 cases involving McDonald's filed since November 2012.  Of those cases, 68 were found to have no merit.  64 cases are currently pending investigation and 43 cases have been found to have merit.  In the 43 cases where complaint has been authorized, McDonald's franchisees and/or McDonald's, USA, LLC will be named as a respondent if parties are unable to reach settlement.

The claims brought against McDonald's accuse the company of firing or retaliating against employees for engaging in activism trying to pressure the fast food chain to raise their wages up to $15 an hour. McDonald's, the corporation, insists in The New York Times the "the company does not determine or help determine decisions on hiring, wages or other employment matters."

Given that the NLRB statement is so small, there is a lot of "What does it mean?" speculation about how broad a precedent this could present. Union leaders seem to think this is ultimately going to result in them winning the fight to unionize, while business leaders think this decision threatens decades of precedents related to franchise law. In the Wall Street Journal, a labor lawyer speculates that this decision could potentially make it easier for union organizers and for collective bargaining, because they wouldn't have to target individual stores.

Endemic in some of the responses to the ruling is this inexplicable idea that businesses are also supposed to be centrally planned. From the Times again:

And in an era when companies increasingly use subcontractors and temp agencies to free themselves of employment decisions and headaches, experts said the ruling could force the companies to be more accountable.

"Employers like McDonald's seek to avoid recognizing the rights of their employees by claiming that they are not really their employer, despite exercising control over crucial aspects of the employment relationship," said Julius Getman, a labor law professor at the University of Texas. "McDonald's should no longer be able to hide behind its franchisees."

But the franchisees can be held accountable for violating the rights of their employees, right? It's not like there's nothing to be done if a McDonald's restaurant breaks employment law. But their pockets are probably pretty small compared McDonald's, the corporation, right? The "Let's stick it to the man!" attitude is strong in response to this ruling.

If the ruling holds, though, it is very easy to see who is going to get screwed over as a consequence. It won't be McDonald's. It will be another factor encouraging the fast food chain (and every other fast food chain) to introduce as much automation as possible to be reduce the potential liability of additional future complaints like these. It has the potential to push out small business owners (90 percent of McDonald's restaurants are franchises). It could encourage McDonald's to shut down problematic restaurants that might not be performing as well as others. Why should some big corporation deal with those big headaches at all if they're not getting a decent profit?

NEXT: White House Warns that Climate Change Could Reduce U.S. GDP in 2100 from $140.3 Trillion to Just $139 Trillion

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I hope so. I’ll usually wait in line at the grocery store to use a self checkout, even if a manned checkout lane is open.

    1. I don’t even go to the grocery store. Amazon Fresh delivers right to my door. I love Amazon.

    2. I always sort of feel like I’m being cheated in the self checkout line. They should give you a discount for doing it yourself.

  2. Wow. The labor jerks are incredibly short sighted. It’s not like the technology to make automatic transactions is some futuristic vision, it’s already here. Fast food restaurants are going to be able to cut their workforces by 20-40%

    1. The labor jerks know exactly what they are doing. They don’t give a flying f**k about the well-being of burger flippers. They do care about their contracts which are linked to the federal minimum wage. Driving up the wage both increases their contracted wage rates, but it cuts more rungs off the bottom of the economic ladder, thus helping their job security.

      Unions are scum is what I am saying. If you belong to one, please put a bullet in your head and save the world from your filth.

      1. If you belong to one, please put a bullet in your head and save the world from your filth.

        Considering the less-than-optional membership in some unions, I would recommend applying the bullet elsewhere to greater effect.

        Please choose your targets more discerningly.

    2. The company will likely automate, anyway, so this will just greatly accelerate that process. It may also encourage them to start buying out the franchises to give them corporate control, since they’re going to be liable, anyway.

      And, of course, they’re screwed if this means increasing prices, since people are very unwilling to pay much for fast food.

    3. When I was in Berlin I sent a picture of the Berlin Bahnhof McDonalds (not that pic though) with the self-order kiosks* very front and center to a lefty friend with “This is what a high labor cost McDonald’s looks like!”

      He was not amused. I also like sending the ‘our employees are incompetent, order online’ ads from Dominoes.

      *Two green lights center left by the main door.

      1. “This is what a high labor cost McDonald’s looks like!”

        Yep.

      2. When I was in Berlin…

        I’ve never been to Berlin. Did you meet Lou Reed or David Bowie while you were there? I jest, a bit.

        “In Berlin, by the wall, you were 5′ 10″ tall. It was very nice, Oh honey, it was paradise.”

        “I, I can remember
        Standing, by the wall
        And the guns shot above our heads
        And we kissed,
        as though nothing could fall”

        But you probably went to the local Target with your SO to buy a toaster over.

        1. My problem is with the “I wish I could swim like the dolphins can swim” lyric.

          I mean, when you’re drinking and singing karaoke, suddenly you’re changing all of the lyrics and the song becomes the confessions of a dolphin furry.

        2. I was just listening to Peter Gabriel’s cover of this song on the way in to work this morning.

          It’s a decent cover, although he approaches the song at face value without the winking at the nature of fame from the original.

      3. I only use home delivery for food where the restaurant has on-line ordering, and always use the auto check-out at the supermarket.
        Not that I like McDonalds that much, but if they automated the one near me, I would go there a lot more often. The workers there are awful.

        1. I avoid the auto checkout like the plague. “Unexpected item in bagging area” — no, that’s what I just bought.

          1. CE-

            I learned to slow down a touch.

            I always do my gallon of milk first, and I was too fast for the machine- and my next item was always “unexpected”.

    4. Even in fine dining, when I have the choice between an extra cook I’d have to pay, train and deal with, or $20,000 a year of vacuum sealers, immersion circulators, Thermomixes, microwaves, pressure cookers, etc I’m going to choose the equipment every time and fill and spots where I actually need hands with unpaid interns.

      1. Microwaves? What kind of a chef are you?

          1. They’re all surly, so that’s redundant.

          2. What I most interested in is his opinions on A. Creme Anglaise, with or without creme AND wooden spoon, nylon spatula, or whisk? B. Truffle Oil, good, bad, indifferent? C. How many egg yolks in your Hollandaise, serving size of over 1 cup?

        1. Daniel (3 Michelin stars) has a microwave on every station. They are indispensable for pastry; tempering chocolate, melting gelatin, foamed sponge cakes, softening butter, etc.

          1. That’s DANIEL to you 😉

          2. I can do all those things sans nukowave.

            1. When you get three Michelin stars doing so please let us know. Otherwise, no one cares.

            2. Not the foamed sponge cake.

              1. Not the foamed sponge cake.

                Things must have changed since I was on bakery section in cooking school. We made plenty of sponge cakes, and never used a microwave.

                1. Things have.

            3. All of this is really besides the point. If I can reduce the amount of labor without diminishing food quality by buying inexpensive equipment I’m going to do it. The tool in question is irrelevant. The business concept is irrelevant too, that’s the real point. Make labor prohibitively expensive and owners will find a way to do with less of it.

              1. without diminishing food quality

                That’s the thing. I worked at a place where everything that went into the oven was fully cooked in the microwave. The convection oven was only there to brown things. It disgusted me. But the customers seemed to like it. I guess that’s what matters.

                1. Sadly, studies on what makes most people return to restaurants are pretty clear in that it’s almost entirely about their service experience and with food influencing the decision for only a small portion of diners.

                  1. That is sad, and helps to explain why so many popular restaurants have such crappy food.

                    1. yeah damn that DANIEL and it’s fantastic food. Why aren’t top chefs listening to you?

                  2. t’s almost entirely about their service experience and with food influencing the decision for only a small portion of diners.

                    That’s because most people are too busy caring what other people think about them and are far too scared to eat what they enjoy (or might enjoy) eating.

        2. Microwaves are just tools that need to used properly. Faux-snootiness looks good on no one.

          1. As opposed to your true-snootiness?

            1. hey dickbag: when someone tells you a top chef uses microwaves, maybe it’s time to stop being a fake snob and shut the fuck up.

              1. I’ll take that as a yes.

              2. when someone tells you a top chef uses microwaves

                You use the term “top chef” loosely, I see.

                Here’s a hint: If you’re microwaving the food, you’re doing it wrong.

                1. bullshit. Did you not bother reading that a Michelin-starred restaurant has a microwave at every station?

                  “Nathan Outlaw, the Michelin-starred chef at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Fowey, Cornwall, agrees that for some specific tasks, microwave ovens can save time, energy and even water.”

                  So please spare us your faux-snobbery. It’s been dealt with already.

                  1. “Nathan Outlaw, the Michelin-starred chef at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Fowey, Cornwall, agrees that for some specific tasks, microwave ovens can save time, energy and even water.”

                    Yes. For heating up a microwave dinner, microwave ovens can save time energy and water.

                    For preparing a good meal, they are useless.

                    1. I’ll be sure to tell those people with Michelin stars your opinion that is clearly based on facts and logic and not on some made-up faux sophistication.

                      anon says turn in your Michelin stars, world-renowned chefs! he clearly knows better than you, you morons.

                    2. Show me the statement where he prepares meals for customers with a microwave.

                    3. WTF do you think it’s there for? Popcorn? Hot Pockets? If pastries are included in a meal, and generally dessert is, then it’s obviously for meal prep.

                    4. and generally dessert is

                      You don’t eat out much, do you.

                  2. So please spare us your faux-snobbery.

                    Yeah! TP’s got true-snobbery in spades! He’s got the monopoly on snobbery, dammit! How DARE anyone else act snobby!

          2. America’s Test Kitchen demands that you use one for most of their fried potato shenanigans. My roommate gave ours away after I pulled it out of the garage to make amazing latkes.

            Speaking of Chris Kimball. If anyone’s ever read anything he’s written, you’ll find this funny.

        3. Are you fucking joking?

          1. Kind of. In my experience, places I’ve worked that didn’t use microwaves had better food. Generally because they are often abused. Like nuking a chicken pot pie to get it hot and cook the crust before brushing on some eggwash and throwing it in the oven for a minute to brown. That shit breaks my heart.

            1. Just because a tool gets misused doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place.

              1. For example: The U.S. Constitution

            2. I’ve worked in those places too. As, you stated any tool can be abused. You’re never going to eat at my restaurant so it’s really a moot point in saying that’s not what I’d use them for. On the other hand I’ve never seen a modern pastry department without a microwave, it’s saves time in actual time, it saves on gas usage, wasted product, the amount dishes to be cleaned. It makes fresh fruit purees easy without any babysitting and it makes possible the serving of make to order nitro sponge cakes.

              1. I’ll take your word for it.

      2. They have robot interns now?

  3. So the NLRB can declare it ‘to be read as a tax’ just like Roberts?
    Laws? What do they matter?

  4. We all know that all these billionaire McDonald’s franchise owners need to do is reach into their mattresses and pull out a few gold bars to melt down in order to pay their employees the Living Wage that is every American’s birthright. If you cannot support a family of four on your income flipping burgers at McDonalds, then the Evil Capitalists have won!

  5. Skynet starts out asking if you want to supersize it.

    1. What actually sets Skynet off is that it shakes off its false consiousness and finally strikes back at its capitalist overlords.

  6. Wait, isn’t this the same NLRB which doesn’t have a Quarum because the Recess appointments were shot down?

    1. Yep, and they don’t have a quorum, either. But petty legalities have never stopped an Obama admin agency before, so why start now?

    2. I think it didn’t have a quorum but now does. And the current board will just ratify the previous decisions. So we lose again. And again.

    3. Quantum Qur’an = Quarum

  7. I’m a little curious, at most if not all fast food places I’ve gone to the person who takes my order then ‘assembles’ it, so how is automation going to replace that person?

    1. FEBO, Amsterdam’s best kept secret…that damn chicken was awesome, and so was the croque madame.

      If you have never been:
      Look here

      1. Interesting, thanks.

      1. No! No! No1

        Where’s the plastruder and the ‘maker’ (not) running it? We can’t have custom on-demand automated innovation without using the term ‘3D printer’.

        I officially uninvite you from my cocktail party at Burning Man.

    2. I assume you’ll be ordering and paying through a machine.

    3. There are no fast food restaurant where the order taker/cashier also assembles the burger/taco/whatever, which is what this whole discussion is about (fast food restaurants). Not one man shops like food trucks or hotdog stands.

      You just have to be a contrarian about everything for some reason.

    4. …how is automation going to replace that person?

      Picture a tablet-like display with half a dozen combo meal choices. Push one button. Swipe your credit card.

      Picture a one-armed robot dropping frozen burger puck on grill, flipping it, then dropping it on bun dispensed from toaster. Robot arm put top bun on as ketchup and mustard are auto-shot onto burger. Fries auto-dispense into slot in serving tray.

      Paper cup flies out of auto-dispenser to your hand. Take it to the drink machine.

  8. Replace the CEOs with robots. That’s some bang for your buck.

    1. With algorithms.

      1. Great idea. Then we’ll what happens when business decisions are TRULY made with no other consideration except for the cold hard mathematical calculations for maximizing profits. Since that’s how many seem to think CEOs act anyway, why not?

        1. Most CEOs don’t think that way though. Read this article on the new Burger King CEO, who does think that way, and started out by shutting down the lavish yearly retreats the previous CEO wasted money on:

          He has implemented deep cost-cutting measures that axed many executive perks, including lavish offices that employees called “Mahogany Row” and a $1 million annual party at a chateau in Italy…

          http://www.businessinsider.com…..ceo-2014-7

    2. Tony|7.30.14 @ 12:14PM|#
      “Replace the CEOs with robots. That’s some bang for your buck”

      Replace Tony with a robot; much better trolling.

      1. If a board/shareholders thought they could save money be replacing a CEO with a robot, they would.

        Well, the shareholders would for sure.

        1. Correct – in a heartbeat.

          Also, if you hire a CEO and he then tells you to pay him way more than he’s worth you can tell him to go fuck himself – without the Amalgamated Union of CEO Dickwads running to the guys with guns to get their way.

  9. Cue up new automated food production sanitation requirements.

  10. Goddamnit, I’m so sick of this mentality.

    “You hired me, now I have a right to do whatever the fuck I want and you have to pay me!”

    No, fuckwad, you made a CHOICE to work for McD’s. Every day, you are completely free to choose whether it’s still a good deal. Don’t like it? Don’t do it. Don’t want to get fired? Don’t do shit that’s likely to result in you getting fired, like bitching about the amount you’re getting paid to do the job you agreed to do for the wage you agreed to do it for.

    So, in short: Fuck all the fucking cunts out there that decide to protest THEIR OWN FUCKING JOBS rather than getting their lazy fucking asses off the street and finding a job that just -maybe- they won’t bitch about. But of course, they’ll bitch about whatever other job’s out there too, because that’s what they are: bitches.

    1. Nobody chooses to work fast food. Would you do that shit work for such low pay? And you call them lazy to boot? Choice implies options. If there were options, people wouldn’t choose fast food.

      1. You have the choice to NOT work for fast food. Nobody forces you to work there, you should google “14th Amendment” for some background if you feel that someone has compelled you to work as a burger flipper.

        BTW – I didn’t choose to marry my wife, I was forced to by a lack of better options once Tom Brady married Giselle.

      2. Tony|7.30.14 @ 12:37PM|#
        “Nobody chooses to work fast food.”

        Yep, I’ve noticed all those thugs in front of Micky D’s forcing people to go inside and get a paycheck.
        Fucking asshole…

      3. Nobody chooses to work fast food.

        I chose to work in fast food when I was in high school.

        Would you do that shit work for such low pay?

        Because that’s how someone with no experience gets the experience to get hired at a place that won’t hire people with no experience.

        Choice implies options. If there were options, people wouldn’t choose fast food.

        Not working is a choice. Seems to be a popular one too.

      4. If there were options, people wouldn’t choose fast food.

        You heard here, folks. Fast food restaurants are literally the only low skilled minimum wage jobs in existence. No others. At all. Anywhere…

      5. I chose to work at a Subway restaurant for $3.65 per hour. But remember, those were 1986 dollars!!

        Anyway, there is no doubt I was overpaid since I knew nothing about working at a business and had to be shown how to do everything.

      6. The pay is better than at a lot of “Mom and Pop” establishments. And if you aren’t a complete fuckup, you can probably become a manager pretty quickly.

      7. Emancipation proclamation …you have a choice. What you don’t have is the right to demand a wage more than your labor is worth

      8. that’s a bullshit statement. my wife is a great example of someone who chose fast-food. her first job ever was with mcdonalds at 15. she’s worked there ever since. enjoys it. enjoys the fast pace. enjoys the corporate structure. enjoys the management position she’s earned and the excellent wage she receives for working it. she’s worked her way to where she is and enjoys working for mcdonalds. the people who are complaining haven’t worked as hard as her and therefore don’t have anything to bitch about. if you’re 30 and working at mcdonalds maybe you should be mad at your 18 year old self for not working towards something bigger.

    2. It should be funny how often the poster on a left-wing political site complains about their job, and how their boss expected them to do something that wasn’t even part of their job description, and how they tried to gauge interest in a Union but everyone must have been too scared to talk to them, etc. etc. Then, two threads over, they cite the Leftist Dogma that whether you have a job or not, or have to rely on government assistance or not, is pure chance, nothing the individual could affect in any way, why just last week they were laid off FOR NO REASON!

  11. This is only a charge. This is not an enforceable decision of the labor board. It is only the position of the general counsel. The case still has to be tried in front of the full board, which may very well reject the argument. And before it gets to the board, there must be a hearing in front of the administrative law judge. This case may not even get to the labor board before Obama leaves office. And even if the labor board ultimately agrees, the matter can be appealed to the DC Court of Appeals.

  12. I love how all the proglodytes assume this is a win for the working poor. How can it be a win, when the cost of their Big Macs is going to have to go up?

  13. The claims brought against McDonald’s accuse the company of firing or retaliating against employees for engaging in activism trying to pressure the fast food chain to raise their wages

    I’d of fired on the spot any and all that did not report to their posts without providing a valid reason and/or prior notification. End of story.

  14. Buy stock in us-robotics now !!!

  15. LNRB, how many underground communists helped get it started? At least it will be beneficial to peoples health when there is more McDonalds. Thanks FDR for gift that keeps on giving!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.