McDonald's cut ties Thursday with a Pennsylvania franchisee accused of exploiting J-1 student guest workers. The company made the announcement via email as guest workers protested outside of a McDonald's in New York City’s Times Square.
According to The Nation, McDonald’s announced that franchisee Andy Cheung "has agreed to leave the McDonald's system" and that they were in the process of "working on connecting with the guest workers on an individual basis to most effectively address this situation."
Jorge Rios, who escalated his fight against McDonald's online after protesting in Hampden, Pa. last week, took to the franchise on Thursday to protest with about 20 other strikers. They were quickly removed from the restaurant by police, but they continued to condemn the company for their alleged abuse.
"We demand dignity. We demand respect for all workers. McDonald's must pay," Rios said as the protesters repeated his message.
The strikers plan to stop in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. to speak to legislators including stronger labor protection for guest workers as part of immigration reform.
Rios, an Argentine student, came to the United States on a J-1 visa, which charged him $4,000 and allowed him to work in the U.S. in order to make that money back and gain work experience.
During his part-time job at the McDonald's in Hampden (owned by Cheung), Rios said that he and the fellow workers on J-1 visas were exploited. They faced terrible working conditions, threats, grease burns, stolen wages, and low hours with high housing deductions. Rios lived in Cheung's basement for $300 per month with as many as seven other workers, without any privacy.
And when he talked to his American coworkers, he discovered they weren't being treated much better.
Fifteen workers have now been on strike for eight days and they are working with the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA), which says it’s just scraping the surface.
"The U.S. Department of Labor has registered 1,588 labor violations by McDonald's since 2002," NGA executive director Saket Soni said. "That tells us the exploitation of these guestworkers is just the tip of the iceberg. As U.S. corporations push for more guestworkers through immigration reform, McDonald's needs to lead the way by pledging to protect workers against retaliation for exercising their labor rights."
For Rios and the other student workers, just letting Cheung go isn't enough. They released a statement soon after hearing the news about Cheung:
“McDonald’s action is an important admission of labor abuse at its stores. But a change of management at three stores will not protect the guestworkers and U.S. workers at McDonald’s 14,000 other stores in the U.S. We asked McDonald’s to meet with us and our allies to come to an agreement on how to protect all McDonald’s workers. If they will not, we will come to McDonald’s headquarters on March 26 to seek a meeting. If they will not meet with us there, we will come to CEO Don Thompson’s house and ask to meet him there.”