The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for workers at its franchisees’ restaurants, a decision that if upheld would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide.
Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor board’s general counsel, said that of the 181 unfair labor practice complaints filed against McDonald’s and its franchisees over the last 20 months, he found that 43 had merit on such grounds as illegally firing or threatening workers for pro-union activities.
In those cases, Mr. Griffin said he would include McDonald’s as a joint employer, a classification that could hold the fast-food company responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants. Roughly 90 percent of the chain’s restaurants in the United States are franchise operations.
McDonald’s said it would contest the decision, warning that the ruling would affect not only the fast-food industry but businesses like dry cleaners and car dealerships.
“McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the N.L.R.B. shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,” said Micah Wissinger, a lawyer in New York who filed some of the cases against McDonald’s. “The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.”
The next stages for the cases could involve Mr. Griffin’s trying to seek a settlement. But the cases more likely will be argued before an administrative law judge.