My Fast Food Nightmare

Three years ago, when my grandmother fell ill, I chose to delay my studies to work full time at McDonald’s to pay for her prescriptions and medical care.

I knew at the time that my starting pay of $7.45 an hour wouldn’t be enough to live on. I even knew that I’d have to resort to other measures — like selling my plasma — to try to make ends meet.

But I didn’t know that I was signing up to be sexually harassed and assaulted at work, with managers who would only pile on when I asked for help.

My ordeal began when a co-worker began touching me inappropriately. While I was washing dishes, checking the schedule in the crew room, or just walking by, he would grab my crotch, my breasts, or my backside. Once he forcibly moved my hand to his crotch when I refused a request to touch him. On at least one occasion, he said “you want it.”

When he touched me against my will, I felt completely exposed, as if I had no skin. I felt like I was outside of my own body, watching it happen.

But when I asked my shift managers to help, they did worse than nothing. One of them suggested the co-worker and I were romantically involved and that the touching was consensual. The other suggested that I was probably giving the co-worker “sex appeal,” and that we should just take it to the “next level.”

After that I felt helpless to make him stop. I was uncomfortable, embarrassed, and afraid to go to work, but I needed the money too much to quit.

I took three days off and got back into uniform. When that co-worker eventually left McDonald’s for good, I thought I could start to feel safe again. But that feeling was short-lived. Soon, another employee forced me into the men’s bathroom and tried to have sex with me.

Because my initial complaints had been ignored, I stayed quiet about that incident — until now.

I recently joined with McDonald’s cooks and cashiers across nine cities to file charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Just like me, many of these women were mocked, ignored, or even fired when they complained about degrading and frightening behavior by co-workers or supervisors.

With the support of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, we’re speaking out to hold McDonald’s accountable for allowing this abusive behavior.

#MeToo has put the spotlight on the sexual harassment of women in Hollywood and other high-power industries, but workplace sexual harassment is also widespread for women like me in the fast-food industry — and companies like McDonald’s are still turning a blind eye.

I now know that 40 percent of women working in fast-food have been sexually harassed on the job, and that one in five of them have faced retaliation for complaining.

Two years ago, a series of other workers filed similar charges against McDonald’s, but I don’t see that anything has changed. As one of the country’s largest employers, McDonald’s can use its enormous power and influence to guarantee safe and dignified workplaces for all employees.

I’ve never felt more powerless than when I was sexually harassed and assaulted on the job. But I’ve never felt more powerful than today. By standing up and speaking out, I’m hoping McDonald’s will listen and make changes so that no woman will have to experience what I’ve been through.

Tanya Harrell is a McDonald’s worker near New Orleans and a leader in the Fight for $15.


More articles by:

November 20, 2018
John Davis
Geographies of Violence in Southern California
Anthony Pahnke
Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it
Maximilian Werner
Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation
Masturah Alatas
Undercutting Female Circumcision
Jack Rasmus
Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond
Geoff Dutton
Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow
Binoy Kampmark
Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange
Rev. William Alberts
America Fiddles While California Burns
Forrest Hylton, Aaron Tauss and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo
Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia
Patrick Cockburn
What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?
Clark T. Scott
Our Most Stalwart Company
Tom H. Hastings
Look to the Right for Corruption
Edward Hunt
With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines