Yaron Sher, 17, used to travel an hour and a half three times a week to his job at the McDonald’s branch in Ramat Aviv. He says he was never late and was even a candidate several times for the branch’s outstanding employee award. His average monthly salary was 1,200 shekels. When asked why he made such a long commute for such a low salary, he answered, “My friends are there. I’ve become connected to the branch.”
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Three weeks ago, the manager of the branch telephoned Sher and told him to stop coming into work. Last Monday, Yaron attended a pre-dismissal hearing in which he was accused of having behaved in an insolent manner toward managers and refusing to move merchandise. Yaron denies the accusations. He says he is being singled out because he is a leader of the workers’ committee that he established about a year ago and participated in a protest at another branch about three weeks ago.
“How is it that I was a dedicated employee for a year and a half, and only from the moment I demonstrated in front of the branch in Rishon Letzion, I’m considered a problematic employee?” he asks.
Management and labor for McDonald’s in Israel have been in talks about a collective agreement for about a year. Employees say progress was made on salary and benefits, sick leave and reducing the cost of employees’ meals. A date to sign the agreement was set, but management got cold feet at the last minute, reneging on parts of the agreement, workers say.
“Suddenly, on the day of the signing, the management wanted to change things and add things that were not relevant,” said workers’ committee member Oshri Bakshi of the Netanya branch. “A problem-solving committee was supposed to be established. People were supposed to be able to contact it when there was a problem. But the management insists the committee will meet once every two months, and that it will be possible to postpone [offering] the solution twice for [a total of] six months. At Burger Ranch, for example, the committee can be convened once a week, and if the matter is urgent, once every three days. This way, a simple problem won’t be solved for six months. To put it simply, this is silencing.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the members of the workers committee, which claims to represent more than half of McDonald’s employees in Israel, held protests at McDonald’s branches in Israel to push for the signing of the agreement. At the branch on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, a dozen activists from the Dror Israel Movement demonstrated. Sher, who came wearing a McDonald’s employee shirt, was the only McDonald’s employee there. He says his pre-dismissal hearing intimidated other employees into staying home.
“They’d heard that I was being fired, and they were afraid for their jobs and didn’t come. There are many workers who are sending money to their families, and they are afraid of losing their jobs. The management pretends to say, ‘Look what’s happening to the committee members. If you rise up, we’ll get you, too.’”
Despite the hearing, Sher attends every protest. “I’m in activities all the time, always with the committee, and I’m not sorry I joined the committee, despite the hearing. I care about the workers, and together we will get the agreement signed,” he says. “I admit that it’s been hard for me, not earning a salary for three weeks. I support myself and buy my own food, and this is harming my way of life.”
The protesters chanted, “We will have an agreement one day,” “Mother, tell me: Why does my CEO not respect me?” and “Omri Padan doesn’t care about the workers.”
Padan founded the anti-occupation movement Peace Now and is an owner and the chairman and chief executive of McDonald’s in Israel.
“[Padan] established Peace Now, but it seems he’s a capitalist now. He’s a leftist on the one hand, and on the other he’s depriving young people of their right to unionize. That says a great deal about the kind of person he is,” Sher said.
The Rothschild branch was nearly empty during the protest. Police officers on motorcycles arrived at one point.
When asked what he would tell Padan if he were to meet him, Sher said, “Omri, we’re teenagers, and we keep your company going. Stop trying to put one over on us by setting dates and then disappearing. Start looking like you care about your workers, who have gotten your company where it is over the past 20 years.”
Another member of the workers’ committee, Oshri Bakshi, says that working for McDonald’s is not as easy as it looks. “The toughest things are dragging merchandise from one place to another and staying on schedule, which is the company’s top priority, even when we’re sometimes understaffed. You have to carry boxes that weigh 12 kilograms. There are proper safety rules, and they are enforced at my branch, but some branches where they’re not enforced well enough have complaints about safety. The procedures aren’t really carried out, and some workers do not teach them well, like how to work with boiling oil or with the grill.”
Bakshi says the pay is also demoralizing. “It makes people work without motivation or desire. It’s like saying: I would like to pay less, but the law doesn’t allow me to do that. When the workers are happy, the customers are happy.”
Protests have been held to support legislation to increase Israel’s minimum wage to 30 shekels an hour. The Histadrut labor federation, which represents organized labor in Israel, is not participating in the protests because of, among other things, competition with labor organization Koach La Ovdim, which supports the increase proposed by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash). “I don’t think it’s going to happen, even though it would help everyone,” said Bakshi. “The Knesset isn’t in favor of it.”
But Sher is an enthusiastic supporter. “It’s a terrific and important initiative that will help a lot of families living beneath the poverty line. One can’t make ends meet on minimum wage in Israel.”
McDonald’s declined to comment on the workers’ complaints about the talks. Regarding Sher’s claims, a company spokesperson said, “The employee is in the midst of a disciplinary procedure the details of which we will not go into out of respect for him. The claim that there is any connection between the hearing and the fact that he is a member of the workers’ committee is false.”