By: Ashmar Mandou
On International Women’s Day, local fast food workers from a fast food chain, owned by the franchise Diza Hospitality, filed multiple sexual harassment complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The charges of discrimination were filed early Wednesday morning by female employees, all of whom declared the incidents were allegedly carried out by Terry Smith, the General Manager of the franchise locations. Following the filing of the complaints, workers rallied during the lunchtime rush hour in front of the downtown fast food store where Diza Hospitality’s General Manager was scheduled to work. They held a banner that demanded ‘A Harassment-free Workplace’ and signs that read ‘End Sexual Harassment in the fast food industry’ and ’40 percent of women in fast food report sexual harassment.’
Fast food workers also shared detailed accounts of their personal experiences and how sexual harassment is a common workplace issue for women. Aiesha Meadows McLaurin, a Fight for $15 leader described how she was expected to respond to the inappropriate behavior. “I was due for a promotion and my GM called me to his back office. I thought he wanted to discuss my new position, but instead he made me put my hand on his crotch” said McLaurin. “It was the most degrading thing that’s ever happened to me. This has to stop because it’s completely unacceptable. We’re not objects, we are women and we are workers.” Rachel Cockrell, another worker who filed a complaint, spoke out about her experiences as a woman and as a worker. “At my job, after I didn’t take part in my manager’s sexual advances, my hours got cut. He would ask me what I thought about him and his wife’s oral sex and other sexual encounters.”
McLaurin, Cockrell and other fast food workers entered the store to deliver a list of demands to management: an end to sexual harassment; reinstatement for harassed employees who were fired; retroactive pay for wages lost during unemployment; and termination of Diza Hospitality management who was involved in the complaints. Approximately two-thirds of fast food workers are women and 40 percent of them have reported sexual harassment. According to a national survey released by Hart Research and Futures Without Violence, the National Partnership for Women & Children, and the Ms. Foundation for Women, two in five female fast-food workers across the country have been sexually harassed on the job.
“Sexual assault and solicitation are criminal acts that should not be happening at the hands of an employer. Companies have the responsibility to hire and train managers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and take corrective action to ensure a dignified workplace” said Karla Altmayer, Co-Founder & Co-Director of Healing to Action and Co-Founder of the Coalition Against Workplace Sexual Violence. Workers were also joined by a city official who supports their fight for higher wages and harassment-free workplaces. “I am here in support of these workers and this action, but not just that. We must remind ourselves that these workers need a $15 minimum wage” said 22nd Ward Alderman Ricardo Munoz. “Not only are we here to shed light on this disrespectful and illegal action by these several managers, but we’re also demanding that they be paid, and be paid with respect at $15/hour.”