Protests against alleged sexual harassment of McDonald's employees are planned for 13 cities from Los Angeles to Miami on Thursday.
The issue also will be a focus at the company's shareholder meeting in Dallas. Workers and others protesting the company's handling of sexual harassment will be joined there by several Democratic presidential hopefuls calling for greater protections for workers and the formation of a workers' union.
This ratchets up an ongoing fight that escalated this week. Workers, with support from the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund and the Fight for $15 union, filed 25 sexual harassment complaints against the company, most of them at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That's in addition to more than 25 similar complaints filed in the past three years.
The claims allege everything from lewd comments and groping to retaliation.
The protests are increasingly drawing the attention of Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Bill de Blasio, Jay Inslee and Bernie Sanders. Sanders plans to hold a video town hall with workers when the shareholder meeting begins.
Brittany Hoyos of Tucson, Ariz., was only in high school when she says she was harassed by several co-workers. After telling her parents about her working conditions, she says, "I was forced into a meeting where several managers and my harasser were present. I was told I had to stop bringing up the past and that I had to let it go."
Her mother, Maribel Hoyos, also worked at the same store and says she felt powerless to help her daughter. "As a mother, there's a deep guilt and helplessness that I'm working to overcome," Maribel Hoyos says. "I feel responsible for putting my daughter in a position that endangered her safety and mental health."
The Hoyos plan to participate in Thursday's protests.
"The workers' demands are simple: Workers want an effective system to foster a respectful workplace," says Eve Cervantez, an attorney representing the workers. But, she says, after years of complaints, the company has retaliated against many workers bringing them.
Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for McDonald's declined to comment on the EEOC filings. But CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a letter Sunday that "McDonald's is committed to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace."