McDonald's workers across US protest against sex harassment

Current and former McDonald's employees wear tape with "#MeToo" over their mouths as they up to one of their restaurants for a protest in New Orleans on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Janet McConnaughey)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — McDonald's workers staged protests in several cities Tuesday in what organizers billed as the first multistate strike seeking to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

In Chicago, one of the targeted cities, several dozen protesters rallied in front of McDonald's headquarters while a plane flew overhead with a banner reading, "McDonald's: Stop Sexual Harassment." In New Orleans, current and former employees chanted, "Hey, McDonald's, you can't hide — we can see your nasty side."

Other protests were held in San Francisco; Los Angeles; St. Louis; Kansas City, Missouri, and Durham, North Carolina. The targeted restaurants kept serving food, with organizers saying the goal was not to shut them down.

Protesters demanded that McDonald's require anti-harassment training for managers and employees. They also want a national committee formed to address sexual harassment, made up of workers, managers and leaders of national women's groups.

McDonald's declined to comment on the protests, saying it stood by a statement issued last week defending its anti-harassment policies. The company also disclosed last week that it will turn to outside experts to help "evolve" those policies, including consultants from Seyfarth Shaw at Work, an employment law training firm.

Protest organizers called on McDonald's to drop Seyfarth Shaw, depicting it as an "anti-worker law firm." They noted that it has defended the Weinstein Co. in a lawsuit over sexual harassment allegations against former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

At the New Orleans protest, McDonald's employees arrived at a restaurant with red tape over their mouths emblazoned with the #MeToo phrase. They pulled off the tape to chant their slogans.

Tanya Harrell, 22, fought back tears as she explained that workers wanted a more effective system for handling harassment complaints. She said managers had laughed off her complaint that a male co-worker had groped her, telling her she probably had given him "sex appeal."

She said she left McDonald's for a while in 2017 and is now working at a different store.

Harrell was among several protest organizers who filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May, alleging pervasive harassment at some of McDonald's franchise restaurants.

In San Francisco, more than 50 workers and activists protested outside a McDonald's in the Mission District. Among them was Achon Hightower, a Burger King employee who came from Sacramento to show support for fellow fast-food workers.

"There's a lot of sexual harassment going on behind closed doors," he said. "Things like this are kind of hidden and swept underneath the rug. They really don't do anything about it."

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Associated Press writers Terry Chea in San Francisco and David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

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