What’s next for #MeToo? The McDonald’s strikes have an answer.

McDonald’s workers in several states are going on strike Tuesday over sexual harassment. Workers in some (but not every) McDonald’s in 10 cities — Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, San Francisco, and Durham — walked out at lunchtime. They say they won’t return until tomorrow. The strikes are an escalation after 10 McDonald’s employees filed sexual harassment complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in May. The employees say McDonald’s ignored complaints about workplace sexual harassment, which including groping, propositions for sex, and lewd comments. In response, a McDonald’s spokesperson said the company has policies and training in place to prevent harassment and would continue to work with experts to “evolve” these practices. While sexual harassment has motivated workplace organizing for well over a century, today’s action may be the first multi-state strike focused on sexual harassment in US history. Notably, the strike is backed by both the Fight for $15 and Time’s Up, the latter a legal aid group for low-wage workers experiencing sexual harassment created by women in Hollywood, some of whom have been at the center of #MeToo stories (…) That McDonald’s workers are fighting against sexual harassment isn’t surprising. A 2016 survey of fast-food workers showed that 40 percent reported being sexually harassed, and 42 percent of those who experienced harassment felt keeping their jobs required they accept the behavior. Of those who did report it, more than one in five said they were retaliated against for doing so. There are reasons workers in fast food are particularly vulnerable to harassment: Low pay and a lack of job security ensures them little say over any of their working conditions. As Bernice Yeung, a journalist who has investigated sexual abuse among low-wage workers for years, told me, the financial precarity of low-wage work is central to the prevalence of harassment. “As janitors, farmworkers, and domestic workers have told me, trying to support their families on meager salaries means it’s difficult to make a complaint about sexual harassment since it might jeopardize the job that is their financial lifeline,” she said. For most individuals, the risk is simply too high. Low-wage workers need more power on the job, and that’s what strikers are demanding of McDonald’s (…) The question of reducing sexual abuse is a question of who has power. Yet much of the writing about #MeToo functions as a conversation among relatively elite people, concerned with other elite people, and whether the latter elites — who have maybe, probably, or definitely sexually abused someone — should or should not be welcome in the former elites’ workplaces and social world. Hypotheticals and thought experiments metastasize across the pages of publications while harassment and retaliation remain. We live in a world where sexual harassment is, for the average person, very common. As Saru Jayaraman, president of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a nonprofit workers’ center that organizes around sexual harassment in the food service industry, told me, many restaurant workers don’t even consider that the behaviors they experience at work are sexual harassment or that they have protections against such behaviors.

Alex Press in What’s next for #MeToo? The McDonald’s strikes have an answer (Vox)