McDonald's, Employees Reach Pact
Strike Ends; Va. Protest Leader Is Still Unsatisfied
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 23, 1998; Page C03
Josh Whitman, a solemn 17-year-old with shoulder-length blond hair, doesn't
look like a stereotypical labor leader. But for the last six days, the
Fairfax County high school junior has been leading a strike against his
employer, fast-food giant McDonald's.
Yesterday, most everyone on the night shift of the Burke McDonald's at 5651
Burke Centre Parkway went back to work after meeting with company
representatives, who promised to address their complaints about pay and
work hours. The decision wasn't so easy for their leader, who still is
considering whether to return to his job.
"In my mind, me going back in would be saying like, 'Okay, you've won, what
you're doing to everyone in America is right, when it isn't,' " Whitman said.
Whitman led eight of his fellow workers off the job Oct. 16. Brandishing
hand-lettered "on strike" signs and urging diners to stay away, the
picketers attracted the stares of errand-running suburbanites and the
support of some former employees, who joined them on the picket line.
The employees said they had launched their Lilliputian job action against
the company-owned restaurant because of chronic understaffing and poor
treatment by store managers.
At an employee meeting last night, store managers and McDonald's Corp.
executives pledged to fully staff busy shifts, conduct regular wage reviews
and post work schedules well in advance, said employees who attended.
"The meeting went pretty well," said striker Michael Sheinall, 37, who has worked in the grill area of the restaurant for the last seven years. "They totally clouded the issue."
Since last Friday, Whitman has maintained a virtually round-the-clock
presence at the restaurant, holding up signs, napping in his Volkswagen
camper parked nearby and leaving only to go to classes or to stop briefly
at his Fairfax home. His mother, Kitty, said she was not surprised by his
"Josh is a very righteous young man," said Kitty Whitman, a private school
teacher who delivered snacks and drinks to the strikers all week. She said
she will continue to support her son "as long as he goes to school."
"The principles that he is standing up for are correct, in my view, and I
think what he's doing is acting on what he believes in," she said.
The job action by the Burke workers isn't the first strike against
McDonald's, which has resisted union attempts to organize its workers for decades. The local walkout was similar to a strike at an Ohio McDonald's
restaurant in April, when employees won wage increases and paid vacations
after a five-day walkout. Whitman said he knew little about the Ohio strike
before he led his troops to the picket line.
During their protest, the Burke group subsisted on pizza and soda donated
by sympathetic friends and parents and collected more than 175 signatures
from passersby on a petition asking McDonald's to meet their demands. They
got a friendly reception from people driving by, who waved and gave the
thumbs-up sign as they headed for the bank or the grocery store.
"Right on, brother!" shouted one bearded man in a beige minivan as he drove
by Tuesday night.
The strikers, chain-smoking and huddled together for warmth against the
chilly October air, responded with cheers.
Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company