Ohio McDonalds workers attempt precedent-setting organizing effort
On June 20, I interviewed Bryan Drapp, one of the main organizers behind the strike at McDonald's in Macedonia, Ohio. Over Easter Weekend, 20 workers, mostly teenagers set up a picketline and went on strike. The solidarity of would-be customers, delivery drivers, and fellow workers forced McDonald's to agree to the striker's demands. These included a 35 hour work-week with no dock in pay, one week paid vacation, raises to $6.50 per hour for all, and mandatory human relations training for managers. But after people went back to work, McDonald's refused to actually do what they had agreed to do, shortened everyone's hours and hired in a bunch of new people, and began to use some of the oldest union-busting tactics in the book: Intimidation, silence policies, illegal firing and much more took place in the following weeks.
IWW: Could you just give me a general history of how this all happened and then tell us where you all are at right now?
BD: It happened because an older woman was harassed. Jerry Guffie (manager) grabbed her arm and pulled her to the side, told her she was lazy. He told me to go do her job. I wouldn't do it because I don't think anybody should be treated like that. He sent me home and the following day they wouldn't talk to us so we decided to strike. So Easter Sunday instead of reporting to work, we reported to the picket line. We made signs and everything, we had about 15-20 workers the first day. The picket line was up about five days and then the Teamsters got involved. They said "do you guys know you're not protected, they can fire you at any time?" Basically we reached an agreement with McDonald's, which is something I felt we shouldn't have done. We should have held out but every one was getting restless and a lot of the workers couldn't take it. They needed the money and everything. McDonald's didn't stick to even one of our demands, so we filed for unionization. It was very hard because McDonald's hired 35 new employees at the store and they had a bunch of executives from corporate sent in just to stop the union. They were able to accomplish that because Dominic Tocco (the Teamsters Representative) withdrew the organizing drive on June 18 so he can go at it in another week instead of another year. [The NLRB requires that a year go by before the same union can attempt a second organizing drive at the same shop.] Basically, I believe Jamal and I got fired for unionizing.
IWW: I guess I don't really understand why the Teamsters would withdraw from the organizing drive right now...
BD: Because me and Jamal were already with the NLRB with the charge against McDonald's and they didn't want to go at it at the same time, they just wanted to wait to see what would happen.
IWW: An IWW member from the UK pointed out how this scenario sounds a little bit fishy. I mean here you guys go out on strike, the Teamsters show up unannounced, they get you to go back to work, they watch while you get fired for organizing and then they blame you for it and withdraw the organizing campaign...
BD: Well I would say I wasn't too happy with that but the Teamsters have to look out for the whole country because if they want to organize McDonald's they have to make sure they don't lose the first attempt. They have to make sure everyone is behind them and without me and Jamal in the store it was tough because there weren't any strong voices that could speak on behalf of the workers at that McDonald's. So I sympathize with what the Teamsters did, and I'm sure if this goes to court they will back us up with a lawyer.
IWW: What kind of advice would you offer to other restaurant workers that were thinking about organizing?
BD: I would say go for it. Hold out until it is official because McDonald's tried to say that our contract wasn't a contract it was only an "action plan" and they only had to "try" to meet our demands, they didn't have to actually do it. Which is ridiculous. They were just treating us like kids still even though we had the Teamsters. If you want to make a difference you have to have a good following. You have to explain how good it will be once the union gets in. You have to let people know "This isn't just for our store, it's for all the stores. It's for the country!" I was like, "We've got to do this you guys, we're setting a precedent." Other McDonald's workers have been calling and wanting to organize, they're waiting to see what we do." And now since we didn't unionize it doesn't look good. But now another store, because me and Jamal were fired, they want to unionize! They have authorization cards and are signing them right now. So, I just hope another store will unionize. We went through all this stuff, hopefully it's not for nothing.
IWW: So you think it's better to have a union before you actually go into it or do you recommend the way that you did it?
BD: If we would have waited for unionization we could have held out for a while. We'd still be out there. A lot of people would be suffering unless you had another income. Hopefully the Teamsters would back you, but that would be the best way to go because that way they couldn't screw you over.
IWW: Do you still talk to your fellow workers from McDonald's?
BD: Yeah, we still talk a lot. My girlfriend works at the same one. Which is something I don't understand, I'm banned from McDonald's! All the Jed Greene (owned) McDonald's, I'm not even allowed to set foot on their property or I will be arrested. They say that I supposedly threatened somebody but I didn't even do a thing to anybody. And they won't even tell me who this person is...when the NLRB finds out that they're lying we'll get our jobs back and all our back pay.
IWW: I heard about a McDonald's in Canada that a high-school girl was able to get the whole shop to go union, have you heard of that?
BD: Yeah, they shut that one down. They do not want unions! In Macedonia they flew 95 corporates in here to bust our union. I think they hired them just to get me and Jamal out of there. Once they got us out they had a celebration for all the managers where they went out to dinner. It's sick, I mean it doesn't really hurt them and it would benefit the workers. If they got a union in there, there would be so many union people going in there. I mean, it's the first union McDonald's! People would come along way just to eat there.
IWW: So did the corporates they flew in come after you guys?
BD: They put them all in the store to make sure nobody was talking about it. They talked bad about the union. You know it's hard, when me and Jamal were in there we'd be like "You can't say that stuff, we're gonna talk good about it." They get a misconception, all these new workers they think the union is a bad thing because that's all they hear. It's not like that...
IWW: So is there anything else you want to say to people out there?
BD: I just want to say, if you're treated bad at work, whether it is McDonald's, Burger King, or any restaurant worker--just stand up for yourself. Go talk to the unions. You don't necessarily have to strike, that can be a last resort. Or talk to Jamal and I and we'll come and support you. We're looking to do that and we want to help people unionize. Obviously I don't have a job right now so I have a lot of free time on my hands!
IWW: How can people support you and carry on the work that you have started?
BD: Well, the best way would be to have an international boycott of McDonald's because they fired us for trying to unionize. No matter how many times they try to say we harassed people, we never did. And it will help support Jamal and I and help us to feel that there is still a chance to unionize a McDonald's restaurant.
Latest word is that another McDonald's restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky had a walkout just recently. If you are organizing at your restaurant and would like to get ahold of Bryan Drapp, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (330) 467-4581.
The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) locally is holding a picket Sunday, July 12 at 3 p.m. at the University & 13th St. McDonalds, in coordination with a Nationwide Day of Solidarity with the McDonalds workers in Ohio.
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