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Report reveals McDonald's threw workers under the bus in Teamster campaign

The world's largest fast food company failed workers in its supply chain when it dropped business with Taylor Farms, the world's largest supplier of packed salad and produce.

That's the finding of a new report released by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), documenting extensive violations of workers' rights at Taylor Farms' facility in Tracy, Calif., where workers have been trying to organize with Teamsters Local 601 for almost two years.

According to the report, titled "Golden Veneer: How McDonald’s Empty CSR Promises Failed Workers at Taylor Farms," McDonald's "failed to use its leverage" with Taylor Farms to address labor law violations and instead "caused further damage to the workers" by walking away from the situation altogether:

When workers asked McDonald’s to help address multiple cases of intimidation and sexual harassment at their supplier, Taylor Farms, McDonald’s response took workers by surprise. 

McDonald’s was a large buyer of Taylor Farms produce at the time and within a few months they sent representatives from a corporate social responsibility firm called Arche Advisors – a firm that promotes its expertise in stakeholder engagement – to look into the situation. Unfortunately, the only “report” workers received after the Arche Advisors’ visit was when McDonald’s pulled out of Taylor Farms four months after their visit, leaving dozens out of work just before the holidays. 

ILRF's report added that McDonald's actions inadvertently aided Taylor Farms' campaign against its workers and the Teamsters:

Although we have seen brands cut and run when trouble arises at a supplier before, the swiftness of McDonald’s action was destructive and the lack of transparency from Arche Advisors meant management was able to use McDonald’s review in its campaign against the union. Ironically, McDonald’s CSR programs actually undermined the same rights they were meant to protect.  

McDonald's code of conduct insists that suppliers must respect workers' freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. The code includes a phone number to call to report violations. And that's exactly what one Taylor Farms worker did last year after workers endured countless abuses by the company, included retaliatory firings, intimidation, threats to call immigration authorities and other unlawful tactics before and during the workers' election for Teamster representation.

After McDonald's consultants conducted several audits of the plants in Tracy, the fast-food giant cancelled its orders with Taylor Farms. Not only did this lead to loss of jobs for workers already suffering harsh conditions and company bullying, the salad company also blamed the loss of work on the Teamsters:

Multiple workers reported being told in one-on-one conversations with Taylor Farms managers that the union was the reason McDonald’s pulled its business. Flyers were widely circulated within the facility with photos of the union saying, “thanks for taking away McDonald’s,” and Taylor Farms managers had said repeatedly on previous occasions that union complaints would lead to job loss. Thus, rather than aiding in correction of the violation of McDonald’s Supplier Code, the audit became a tool management used to reinforce to the workforce that if they complain or attempt to unionize, they will face dismissal. 

ILRF concludes that a better "corporate responsibility" policy for McDonald's would be to re-engage with Taylor Farms in an effort to correct the union-busting behavior:

[W]e urge McDonald’s to correct the flaws in their system and to cut a new path in corporate accountability towards programs based on binding standards, transparent reporting, and engagement with trade unions to ensure workers’ rights are protected throughout their supply chain. We stand ready to engage in that redesign, but first we need McDonald’s to come back to the table to stand up for the workers’ whose rights were violated at Taylor Farms.

Teamsters have filed 87 unfair labor practice charges against Taylor Farms, which are still being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board after ballots were impounded from the election last year. Organizers say the Board is close to concluding its investigation and they believe a ruling favorable to workers' bargaining rights will be made soon.

The ILRF report shows us the limits of so-called "corporate social responsibility" -- and why these policies often mean nothing for workers without unions holding companies' feet to the fire. No wonder why Taylor Farms workers have bravely withstood so many indignities in their ongoing fight to become Teamsters.  

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