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July 30, 2014 9:59 AM The NLRB Lifts the Veil From the Franchise Model

By Ed Kilgore

TNR’s Alec MacGillis calls it an object-lesson in why it matters who controls the executive branch of the federal government, and it is that. But more basically, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board decided to treat McDonald’s as responsible for the labor practices of its franchisees, puncturing a legal artifice that has made it possible for fast-food companies to exert control without accountability.

[F]ast-food chains like McDonald’s have been able to hide behind the veil of the franchise model, disavowing responsibility for what happened inside restaurants. Worker advocates have long argued that this was a charade, given the strict terms that the company dictates to its franchisees (whose plight Tim Noah described not so long ago in Pacific Standard). “There’s no doubt who’s in control,” said Micah Wissinger, the Levy Ratner partner who is arguing the unfair labor practice complaints before the NLRB. As Richard Eiker, a veteran McDonald’s worker from Kansas City, described to reporters on a conference call Tuesday, the company sends representatives to his store a half-dozen times a year to check on the business, in addition to sending “secret shoppers” for undercover visits, and the restaurant’s operations are closely tracked on a corporate computer system. “The only thing the franchisees can skimp on is wages,” said Eiker, who now makes $11.05 per hour taking out the trash and cleaning bathrooms—after 25 years as a McDonald’s employee.

Yet up until now, those agitating for better working conditions at McDonald’s and similar companies have been forced to deal with individual franchisees that often have little actual control over what they can pay. Now “unions may no longer have to go about the near-impossible task of organizing restaurants outlets one-by-one.”

Sorta doubt this would have happened under President Romney.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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