MCDONALD'S EMPLOYEES STRIKE OVER WORKING CONDITIONS
Fernando Valencia claims wage theft, sexual harassment at Lincoln Road location
McDonald's employees raised their voices Thursday afternoon to spread the word on current working conditions.
No, they aren't loving it.
About 100 people went on strike both inside and just outside the McDonald's restaurant in Vallejo off 170 Lincoln Road, demanding the chain drop its support for the referendum against AB 257, a law that aims to give half a million fast-food workers what supporters say will be a voice on the job.
The strike at this location was also to demand the restaurant be held accountable for alleged incidents of sexual harassment and wage theft.
Fernando Valencia, who works at the McDonald's, took to a megaphone often, claiming that labor violation laws are being broken. In 2022 he filed a complaint with the California labor commissioner's office, claiming McDonald's “trapped” him in a “scheme of wage theft,” depriving him of the income he needed to support himself and his family.
Specifically, the complaint alleges
that the store manager, Martin (no last name given), forced Valencia to work under two different names so McDonald's could avoid paying him overtime wages. Under the wage theft scheme, Valencia would work until 2 a.m. seven nights per week, and was forced to clock in under both his own name and the name of a former employee who was still in the payroll system. The manager withheld the check under the second name, cashed it and kept some of Valencia's wages for himself.
Valencia has since met with a labor council and says he is getting just one check for all his hours. However, his hours have gone done to 34 a week. Valencia also claimed that the staff was promised a Christmas bonus but never received one.
Valencia also says he was sexually harassed by Martin. In a complaint with the California Civil Rights Division filed Wednesday, Valencia alleged that the store manager harassed him continuously over four months, including following Valencia into the walk-in freezer, groping him and attempting to kiss him, ignoring Valencia's demands for him to stop.
“Martin's harassment made my work a mental hell. It was demeaning and shameful, and got so bad that I would cry at work,” said Valencia in the complaint. “At all relevant times, McDonald's maintained a work environment that facilitated sexually harassing behavior and intimidation.”
“It's been difficult to continue working here after suffering sexual harassment,” Valencia said Thursday through interpreter Maria Maldonado, an organizer of the strike. “I feel bad because I see my check is so low and I've been working a lot of hours. Sometimes a lot of my hours aren't on the check. I've felt terrible and I feel no dignity has been shown.”
Valencia, who began working at the venue off Lincoln about two years, was happy to see so many people join him Thursday afternoon. The group marched across the bridge across the street, went inside the McDonald's and then marched around the drive-thru of the venue numerous times.
The drive-thru was soon closed and blocked off to customers, although some customers still ventured inside.
“It feels very good to have so many people come and support me today,” Valencia said. “My main message is I don't want people to suffer the same cruelty I have gone through. We need people to listen to us. We need a labor council or else we are going to keep suffering these crimes. If we don't have a labor council, this is never going to stop. We need a seat at the table and we're going to continue fighting this fight.”
Valencia isn't the only one experiencing alleged harm. At a strike in front of state Sen. Bill Dodd's office in August, McDonald's employee and Vallejo resident Maria Garcia said she had been working at the restaurant for four years without a raise. Garcia explained that extreme incidents such as having coffee thrown in her face or a gun held to her head happen once every few months, but that verbal abuse occurs daily.
“I'm here today to support all my colleagues and co-workers in fast food because we are all suffering,” Garcia said through interpreter Ben Masters in August. “We deal with a lot of violent customers and there are no security guards. We're not trained to deal with people who have mental health problems but when bad stuff happens, we can't walk away from the job.”
Also supporting Valencia and other McDonald's employees on Thursday was Brandon Dawkins, vice president of organizing with the Local 1021 Service Employees International Union.
“I think this is very important. I've just met Fernando a little while ago, but I'm here for him,” Dawkins said. “He told me about the wage theft and the unwanted advances from the manager. The employees need to be treated with dignity and not have any sexual harassment against them.
“The second thing that needs to happen is McDonald's needs to drop its referendum on AB 257,” Dawkins continued.
In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 257 into law, marking a watershed moment in the nation's labor history that will give more than half a million low-wage workers in the fast-food industry what supporters say will be a more meaningful voice on the job. The state's fast food workers are nearly 80 percent people of color, more than 60 percent are Latino/ Latina and two-thirds are women.
California's fast-food workers are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers in the state and 52 percent rely on public assistance programs. A recent study conducted by Harvard and the University of California San Francisco found that the state's fastfood workers are paid $3/ hr less than comparable service-sector workers and face relatively higher levels of schedule instability. In a recent survey, 85 percent of respondents reported experiencing wage theft while working in fast-food.
Once fully implemented, AB 257 aims to empower workers to develop solutions to long-standing issues in the fast-food industry by the following:
• The bill creates a statewide Fast Food Council, which will include worker, government and industry representatives, to set minimum standards across the California fast-food industry that strengthen health and safety protections, shield workers from retaliation and ensure workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment.
• Under the FAST Recovery Act, franchisees get a seat at the table too. Oftentimes, large franchisors increase California operators' costs or ignore their most pressing needs. With AB 257, franchisees can leverage the Fast Food Council to ensure their stores are safe, healthy and compliant.
• Establishing a Fast-food Minimum Wage. The bill gives the council the power to raise the industry-wide minimum wage to up to $22/hr. Similar to the state minimum wage, the industry minimum wage would adjust annually based on the Consumer Price Index.
• Convening Local Fast-food Councils. The bill allows cities and counties to establish a Local Fast Food Council, giving voice to workers and employers in every region of the state and bringing them together to develop specific solutions to issues in their communities.