| WASHINGTON, July 30
WASHINGTON, July 30 Under Democratic President
Barack Obama, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board has been
taking a stance on workplace relations that has employers,
industry groups and Republican lawmakers voicing alarm.
NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin announced on Tuesday
that McDonald's, not just its franchisees, can be liable
for alleged labor law violations. McDonald's is the world's
largest restaurant chain.
If the five-member, Democrat-controlled NLRB board agrees
with Griffin, the agency's top prosecutor, corporations that may
be far removed from day-to-day personnel decisions made by
franchisees and contractors will be exposed to new legal risks,
"I just don't see him staking out such a public position on
this without some level of confidence that the board majority is
going to side with him or at least move the ball heavily in that
direction," said Seth Borden, a labor lawyer at McKenna, Long &
Workers' groups and labor unions say such a change will
compel corporations to take responsibility for working
conditions that are ultimately under the companies' control.
"Technological advances allow McDonald's to watch over its
franchisees' operations like a hawk, in ways that go well beyond
simply protecting its brand. The NLRB General Counsel
determination leaves no doubt that McDonald's is an employer and
puts an end to it self-serving charade that it is not," said
Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel at the National
Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers.
The board announced in April that it was considering
changing its 30-year-old "joint-employer" standard and asked
interested parties to weigh in on whether it should and, if it
did, what the appropriate standard might be. It has yet to make
Griffin's announcement that McDonald's could be liable for
43 alleged instances of employee rights violations departs from
the board's current standard that typically shields from
liability franchisors and other business entities that do not
employ workers directly.
In prosecutorial decisions and briefs filed with the board,
Griffin has said he believes the board should abandon its
current standard for one that reflects the "economic reality" of
Such an expansion could lead to board findings of joint
liability for franchisor and franchisee, contractor and
contractee and even an entity's use of a vendor, legal experts
Employers and business groups see a union-propelled push
that would lead to nationwide organizing campaigns. They fear
businesses could be swept after the fact into labor disputes and
union negotiations over which they have little influence.
Griffin's announcement is the first step in a process that
"threatens to disrupt a well-established legal standard," said
Randy Johnson, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business
lobbying group. McDonald's has said it will contest the action.
Republicans also were critical. John Kline of Minnesota, the
top Republican on the workforce committee of the U.S. House of
Representatives, accused Griffin of trying to rewrite the
franchise model that workers, employers and consumers have known
Appointed general counsel by Obama, Griffin previously had
been a member of the NLRB board.
His announcement was a preliminary step in a lengthy process
for handling charges filed by workers with the NLRB. Only
charges deemed to have some merit prompt the general counsel's
office to bring a complaint. Then an agency administrative law
judge (ALJ) presides over a trial.
ALJ decisions go to the NLRB's board for consideration. The
board's decisions can be appealed in federal appeals courts,
with each side able to argue its case.
The NLRB oversees union elections and polices labor disputes
in the private sector. Its board is appointed by the president
and confirmed by the Senate, with three members from the
The board's policy decisions tend to shift to reflect the
ideology of the party that controls the White House, with
Democrats traditionally aligning with organized labor and
Republicans with business.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Kevin
Drawbaugh and Howard Goller)