Everyone is entitled to work in a safe, fair, and dignified environment, free from threats of assault, mistreatment, and retaliation. Yet across the country, sexual harassment and assault — unwanted sexual contact or sexual advances that occur without a person’s explicit consent — is pervasive in every corner of the workforce. For low-wage workers at the fast-food giant McDonald’s, experiencing sexual harassment from employers, co-workers, and customers often occurs on a daily basis.
Fighting sexual harassment and assault is a reproductive justice issue. Sexual assault and the response by corporations is reflective of a power imbalance that undermines workers. When one person’s bodily autonomy is valued less than perpetrator’s wishes, or the company’s interests, it reinforces this power imbalance. Anti-choice legislation, likewise undermines a pregnant individual’s ability to make decisions about their own bodies. All people should have their bodies and their autonomy respected.
Sexual Harassment in the Fast Food Industry
Women working in the fast-food industry experience sexual assault 60% more than in any other industry. McDonald’s workers as young as 16 years old have reported being sexually assaulted on the job.
While more than 50 McDonald’s workers have filed sexual harassment complaints in the past three years, many of these cases are still pending. Delisha Rivers, a McDonald’s employee from Kansas City, MO filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in May, 2019, after her manager promised her a raise–but only if she had sexual intercourse with him. Rivers is one of 25 employees who have filed such complaints against McDonald’s with the EEOC, and one of hundreds of employees who have reported assault.
McDonald’s Workers say #MeToo
For McDonald’s employees who have been harassed or assaulted on the job, national movements highlighting issues of sexual assault, such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, have encouraged them to speak out about their experiences.
In 2006, ten years before it became a global twitter hashtag, civil rights activist Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement. Burke wanted to change the cultural response towards sexual assault and provide survivors with a space to share and heal from their experiences. It was in October of 2018 when Hollywood actors and reporters started sharing their experiences of sexual assault online, using the hashtag #MeToo to show solidarity with other survivors. Before long, a global movement followed suit and millions started began sharing their stories of sexual violence with the hashtag. Time’s Up was a movement against sexual harassment founded by celebrities, and in 2018 Time’s Up came together with #MeToo to create the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which has helped many McDonald’s workers file sexual harassment complaints.
In 2012, fast food workers banned together to create the labor group Fight for $15, demanding a union and a minimum wage of $15 an hour. In 2017, movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo encouraged Fight for $15 to advocate justice for workers who had experienced sexual assault in the workplace.
The clock has run out on sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. What McDonald’s is doing to its employees by refusing to pay them a livable wage, and refusing to hold perpetrators accountable, is unfair, unjust, and demoralizing. To end sexual assault, we need reproductive justice. And reproductive justice needs the voices of workers and Fight for 15 to help advocate for a better future for women.