Union Decries 'Rotten' McDonald's Culture, Ignores Own History of Misconduct

SEIU leaders accused of 'abusive and aggressive behavior,' sexual assault

McDonald's workers are joined by Fight for $15 activists as they march toward the company's headquarters to protest sexual harassment in Chicago / Getty Images
November 7, 2019

One of the country's top liberal labor unions is decrying McDonald's "rotten" culture but still grappling with its own history of misconduct complaints, including allegations of sexual assault and "abusive and aggressive behavior" throughout its ranks.

McDonald's ex-CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired last week following a "consensual relationship with an employee that violated company policy." The Fight for 15 movement quickly attacked the fast food giant, calling McDonald's workplace culture "rotten from top to bottom." While Fight for 15 and its chief backer, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have used the #MeToo movement to argue for a $15 minimum wage in fast-food restaurants, labor leaders have faced their own sexual misconduct allegations in recent years.

Former head of Fight for 15 and SEIU vice president Scott Courtney resigned in 2017 over sexual misconduct allegations. Five other officials affiliated with the fast-food minimum wage campaign were forced out in the wake of Courtney's departure. More recently, an ongoing lawsuit accuses SEIU vice president Dave Regan of sexual misconduct, as well as retaliating against whistleblowers. Regan remains employed by the union.

SEIU did not return request for comment.

Leading Democratic presidential candidates have accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash from the union throughout their careers and continue to support Fight for 15 despite the allegations.

Center for Union Facts spokeswoman Charlyce Bozzello said Fight for 15 is wrong to attack McDonald's over workplace culture given its own troubled history.

"When it comes to sexual harassment, the SEIU Fight for 15 campaign might want to remember that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," Bozzello said. "Before decrying the actions of another organization, the SEIU needs to be held accountable for the sordid behavior of its own staff—of which there are, unfortunately, several examples."

The ongoing lawsuit against Regan was brought forward by Njoki Woods, an SEIU employee who spoke on the union's rampant sexual misconduct problems.

"The culture at the time was everybody having sex with everybody," Woods told Payday Report. "That's just the culture—sexual favors—that's how people got ahead there."

Woods also alleged that Regan drank on the job and warned staffers against blowing the whistle on sexual misconduct at an executive board meeting.

"Dave Regan was standing on the stage and they put all these numbers to these attorneys and he said 'If you have an issue of sexual harassment then you can contact these attorneys, but you better damn well know that if you bring up allegations against us, you are coming up against a million dollar organization and we will come after you,'" Woods said.

Woods was fired shortly after going public with her complaint.

In 2018, Fight for 15 spearheaded a #MeToo walkout at dozens of cities across the country. Among their complaints were accusations of hostile work environments, harassment, and accusations that managers "retaliated against those who complained," according to the New York Times.

Leading Democratic presidential candidates have continued to align themselves with the Fight for 15 movement despite the organization's troubled history. Sen. Bernie Sanders routinely praises Fight for 15, calling it "a cornerstone of the Democratic Party." Sen. Elizabeth Warren expressed support for Fight for 15 at an SEIU forum in April, and Joe Biden was "proud to stand with [the] SEIU" when McDonald's workers went on strike in May.

The three frontrunners have accepted more than $115,000 in combined campaign contributions from the SEIU since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.