Teen Leads Strike at Va. McDonald's
Seven Picket Over Staffing and Hours; Executives Negotiate
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 18, 1998; Page B02
Josh Whitman, a high school student in Fairfax County, said all he
wanted was a steady paycheck to keep his beloved Volkswagen camper
running. A $5.50-an-hour job at the McDonald's Restaurant in Burke
seemed just the thing.
Whitman, 17, said he had high expectations of the company after an
earlier job at a well-run McDonald's on Braddock Road. But when the
Burke restaurant sank into what Whitman said was understaffing and
worker mistreatment, he and several other employees decided to take
On Friday night, Whitman and six other employees stopped working and set up a small picket line outside the fast-food restaurant. They resumed picketing yesterday afternoon.
Some patrons may not have noticed the little band of worker-protesters.
But McDonald's did. Within 45 minutes of the start of Friday's
picketing, a crew of executives from the company's regional headquarters had arrived at the restaurant, at 5651 Burke Centre Pkwy., and started negotiations with the strikers based on Whitman's list of demands.
McDonald's Corp. has resisted unionization and has had so few strikes
that an April walkout by 20 employees at a McDonald's in Macedonia,
Ohio, made national headlines.
Whitman said that when business at the Burke restaurant fell off a few
months ago, the store's managers tried to maintain profits by cutting
back on staffing. Bob Palmer, a McDonald's area sales representative,
said there was no loss of business but a temporary shortage of staff.
According to Whitman, the grill area was supposed to have three
employees but sometimes had only one. Similar staff shortages slowed
business at the front counter and the drive-in line, he said.
He said the store's managers failed to keep promises to give him and
others at least 37 hours of work a week and violated rules requiring
that they credit employees with three hours of work if they came to work and were told they weren't needed that day.
Palmer said yesterday that he and other managers were working to settle
He said that most of what Whitman and his co-workers wanted appeared to
be consistent with company policy, but he declined to provide details.
He said the restaurant has remained open. Managers appeared to be
filling in for the striking employees.
Whitman said company officials appeared to agree to nearly all the
demands on his list Friday. But he said that he and the other workers
decided to picket again yesterday to push for one last change. They want the company to guarantee that all full-time employees who have worked more than a year will get some paid vacation, something they said other fast-food companies such as Taco Bell provide.
Within 20 minutes of the protesters' arrival yesterday, McDonald's
managers asked the picketers to leave company property, and they agreed
to, moving to a grassy area near the restaurant's parking lot.
Sharon Rose, a customer driving away from the take-out window, said she
had barely noticed the small demonstration. "I saw something about Taco
Bell on one of their signs, but that's about it," she said. "I didn't
know what it was about."
Whitman and another of the strikers, Michael Sheinall, 37, were wearing
their McDonald's uniforms as they stood outside the store yesterday.
"We are going to stay with it until things change," Whitman said. "We're not getting paid enough to do the work of three people."
Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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