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Attacking McDonald's attacks the American dream

| Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.


Atop a sweeping promontory named for a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad executive, a McDonald's restaurant is one of two places to rest and grab a bite in this mountainous rural interchange.

The other place is a truck stop across the intersection from the old National Pike and Interstate 68.

The McDonald's parking lot is full of pickup trucks with fishing gear jutting from their beds, sleek hybrids with kayaks or mountain bikes racked to their roofs or tailgates and family vans packed with kids coming from soccer tournaments.

Inside, families munch on “extra value meals” and a group of elderly men hold court over a table strewn with empty coffee cups as the restaurant's work crew hustles to serve customers with a smile.

Forty-one years ago, Tim Fenton was part of a McDonald's crew in Utica, N.Y., not much different from the one here in Maryland. Six years later he was the chain's “manager of the year.” Today he is the fast-food kingdom's chief operating officer.

Fenton lived the American dream not by demanding a higher wage and not by organizing protests against the company for which he worked. He did so by achieving, by competing with others and himself, until he made it to the top.

McDonald's is at the center of a socioeconomic war in this country — a big corporation fighting federal regulators, union activists and the politics of division practiced by the White House and the Service Employees International Union.

Since last fall, protesters across the country have been shouting, “Hey hey, ho ho, McDonald's greed has gotta go!” They appear mostly at urban locations, demanding a $15 hourly minimum wage and the ability to form unions.

The union activists scored a victory of sorts recently when the National Labor Relations Board decided that McDonald's must operate under a different set of rules.

The NLRB ruling could profoundly affect the fast-food industry, which, by the way, has been the leader in job creation during the Great Recession and our sluggish slog back from it.

The NLRB's general counsel said in the ruling that McDonald's could be held liable for the employment decisions made at its franchised outlets. In short, if a franchise in Tightwad, Mo., breaks the law on overtime, the entire corporation would face sanctions.

Make no mistake: This ruling, if it stands, will have devastating consequences for our fragile economy.

It will hit at the heart of America's small-business model and at franchise owners like the one here in Maryland. (Four out of five McDonald's outlets are independently owned and operated.) It will kill jobs and economic growth.

McDonald's is two things to most Americans. It is both “big business” — the corporation — and “small business” — the franchise owners who are your neighbors, your kids' soccer coaches or those who sit across from you at church on Sundays.

Now, thanks to the NLRB, those two are at odds with each other.

The instigator is not organic populism; it is the Obama administration's divisional politics and big unions. Both are incredibly organized and have small fiefdoms from which to supply the bodies for protests.

The outcome of this war will change the relationship between franchisers (corporate) and franchisees (small-business owners), not just at McDonald's but throughout our economy, by transferring the costs of managing franchisees' employees back to franchisers.

Labor costs would become uncontrollable; profitability, improbable.

For six years, Americans outside Washington have been looking to the White House for some sign that it knows how to stimulate job growth and to boost the economy. But the White House's record outside bustling Washington has been dreadful.

Now, crippling the only sector that has increased jobs will just add to this administration's inability to encourage business growth and economic prosperity.

Years ago, the Interstate Highway System bypassed the National Road where the Keysers Ridge McDonald's stands. Yet the restaurant found a way to remain vital by employing folks from this small, unincorporated town and affordably feeding weary travelers as they go to or from anywhere but here.

But it might not be able to do so for much longer if the president and the SEIU have it their way.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (

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