Monday, November 04, 2013
McStrike - A Delegate's Tale
Taylor M. is a seventeen year old west Auckland McDonald's worker, Unite Union delegate and Socialist Aotearoa member. This is her account of the McStrike campaign.
On April 29th, negotiations between Unite Union and McDonald’s broke down over the renewal of our existing collective agreement. A collective agreement is the agreement workers are moved onto after joining the union, which takes them off their individual contracts. Unlike the original contract you’re given when you start working at McDonalds, this agreement allows for negotiation and improvements in future as the union takes into account worker’s requests and complaints when redrafting the agreement for the following year and adding their voices in.
This year, additions put forward by Unite Union to be added into the agreement included security of hours, rostered breaks at reasonable intervals, a decent pay of $15 an hour minimum wage, overtime pay after 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week, a free meal on any given 30 minute meal break on shift, union member benefits, life insurance for staff and finally, an end to favouritism and discrimination within the workplace.
McDonald’s declined all of these requests and offered only a 25c pay rise to $14.00 base rate pay. This was rejected by the Union and triggered a heavy string of strikes for the following 4 months. A settlement was not reached until the early hours of the morning on August the 24th after much effort. Discussion with workers, strikes every week, meetings and regular contact with everyone involved made it an exhausting process for both parties.
All ideas put forward towards the new collective agreement were reasonable requests and many are already given to workers at other fast food chains. KFC workers after 6 months work are moved onto $14.73 minimum wage compared to McDonald’s at $14.25 after completion of your CCO’s, which is a heavy folder with hundreds of sheets that need completion before you’re granted your certificate, and often your records are “lost” after completion and the process has to be done again. McDonald’s makes more money in profit than any other fast food chain, but has paid its workers minimum wage. KFC workers are also given time and a half pay after 8h a day or 40h a week, are entitled to a free meal on shift, union member benefits and $5000 life insurance.
Security of hours was a key feature in the push for the new collective agreement, as there had been numerous cases of workers with hours cut or given to others with no warning. This was another example of favouritism within the workplace, as hours are given to manager’s ‘favourites’ without consultation or offering the existing hours to other crew members. Staff working 40 hours a week and then suddenly having their hours cut in half were frequent complaints to Unite and a real problem within the workplace. The new collective agreement was finalized with security of hours, but so far that has not been followed through within all worksites. Last week a worker at McDonald’s Lincoln Road was given zero hours for one week with no notice at all, and then when an explanation was requested from the franchise owner, was told to find his own shifts or ask to cover other crew members. Not all workers at McDonalds are part time students, using the money as extra cash on the weekends, a majority of full time workers within the stores own houses or have children and rely on their pay to cover everyday living costs and support themselves or their families and live on a payslip to payslip lifestyle. Without this security, they can find themselves with little money the following week and in turn, are forced between feeding themselves or paying to keep the roof over their heads. Within my own workplace at McDonald’s Lynn Mall, workers are commonly asked to take their only half an hour meal break less than one hour into their shift, or denied their breaks altogether because the workplace is “too busy” or managers are understaffed. These are common excuses across all McDonald’s worksites and workers are often not given their compensation money for missed breaks.
In response to the company rejecting Unite Union’s requests to improve the renewing collective agreement, the McStrike campaign was formed. The goal of the strikes is to put pressure on the company by making them lose money and customers. This is achieved by having existing crew on shift leave the work floor and come out on strike. During the strikes workers picket the drivethru and entrance and ask potential customers to eat elsewhere, explaining the reasons behind the strike. This costs the company thousands of dollars as they become understaffed and unable to keep up with the initial queue of customers they’re faced with, and then end with a deserted store as all customers have been turned away, sometimes even discontinuing customer loyalty to the corporation. The first official McStrike was done at Panmure McDonalds on June 7th, lead by store delegate Michelle Hooper. Originally, workers were hesitant to come off their shift to participate in a strike out of fear of being bullied or punished by managers especially with no hour security protecting them. However, after assurance from Unite organizers and encouragement from fellow staff, the strikes picked up speed and spread to West Auckland on June 13th, hitting both Lynnmall and New Lynn McDonalds. This was my first strike and the overwhelming support from customers and staff was amazing, after strong support from West organizer Gary Cranston, I perked up the courage to talk to a car about to go through the drive thru “Good on you guys. I’m never eating here again” was the response I received and I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to expose the company’s lies and serial law breaking.
McDonald’s worker Sean Bailey of Quay st McDonald’s was sacked from his job after accessing the time and wage records and calculating that in the past 5 years, McDonald’s has stolen roughly $8million in unpaid breaks and wages. This was after they had told Unite Union that no records were kept electronically and if they wanted these records, they would have to fly to Sydney Australia and print off the millions of pages and afterwards, arrange for them to be shipped back to NZ before any calculations could be made and Unite would be expected to cover these costs. This was a lie and franchise owner Mark Rush held onto the video footage of Sean allegedly printing off the records for up to five months, after Laura Thompson, the Business Partner and HR manager for had previously told Unite that video footage was not held on to for more than 2 weeks when we wanted an allegation of assault investigated. It is our belief that McDonald’s deliberately withheld disciplinary action against Sean until the dispute between the company and Unite had been settled.
From this experience, I’ve learnt that too often workers in the lowest paid jobs are overlooked and treated as machines rather than humans. McDonalds is a large, multinational corporation and their workers have little to no job security and safety. Without us workers, there would be no company, yet we’re being undercut for our efforts. I started my job at McDonalds looking for experience and found it in the most unexpected ways. I learnt that the police, who are meant to be there for you would rather protect a serial law breaking company than its workers and their fellow citizens. I learnt that if the boss is faced between ensuring staff are well looked after or ensuring sales are high, they will choose money. I’ve learnt how to organize strikes, and that there’s a huge difference between saying you support your workmates and proving it by showing up at a picket line. I’ve learnt that there’s power in numbers and solidarity is one of the most important things we can achieve. The strikes for a better collective agreement may be over, but the strikes in solidarity with our fellow worker and delegate Sean Bailey have only just begun. After learning of the mass violations carried out by McDonalds on a regular basis and experiencing unjust treatment of staff, I’m unable to remain apathetic towards the case, and I hope after hearing our story, nor can you.