- McDonald’s and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have reached an agreement in a much-watched "joint employer" lawsuit, Nation's Restaurant News (NRN) reports. The settlement terms weren't disclosed, but the fast-food company maintains that it is not, and never was, a joint employer of its franchisees' workers. An administrative law judge must approve the settlement, says NRN.
- The lawsuit goes back to 2012, when franchisees' employees claim they were fired for advocating for a $15 an hour minimum wage increase, as part of the national Fight for $15 rallies. The workers sued McDonald’s Corp., the franchisor, as a joint employer.
- Micah Wissinger, an attorney for the Fight for $15 labor advocacy group, criticized McDonald’s for not taking responsibility for what he called "illegally firing and harassing workers," says NRN. He says the group will present their arguments against the settlement to the judge.
The settlement puts the Browning-Ferris standard, which expanded the definition of "joint employment" during the Obama administration, back in the spotlight. President Trump's NLRB reversed that standard in a new ruling, Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. and Brandt Construction Co., but that ruling was quickly vacated following ethics concerns, putting the Browning-Ferris standard back into effect.
The McDonald's case was largely considered one of the key cases regarding joint employment, as it directly addressed the question of franchising. Business groups considered Browning-Ferris to be a serious threat to franchising overall, and watched the McDonald's case carefully. Settlement talks were underway before Hy-Brand was vacated, and some called for them to be halted in light of that news. NLRB, however, likely wanted to avoid a trial, Bloomberg reported, as a win for the workers would have had serious repercussions for businesses around the country.
As Wissinger noted, labor advocates will likely fight this settlement to the end. And as for joint employment in general, it may be a long road but, Philip Miles, a shareholder with McQuaide Blasko, writes that it "sure seems like — after all of this excitement the past few years — we're gonna end up right back where we started before the Obama NLRB set out on its expansion mission."