McDonald’s workers file lawsuits over pay practices, allege ‘wage theft’

The Associated Press
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NEW YORK—McDonald’s workers in three U.S. states filed lawsuits against the fast-food chain this week, saying the company engages in a variety of illegal practices to avoid paying them what they’re owed.

A Big Mac at a McDonald’s restaurant in Robinson Township, Pa.

The suits in California, Michigan and New York against McDonald’s Corp. and its franchisees come amid growing attention on the U.S.’s wealth disparities. While the type of violations outlined in the lawsuits aren’t specific to McDonald’s, lawyers said they targeted the company because it’s an industry leader.

Taken together, the lawsuits seeking class-action status could affect about 30,000 workers, lawyers said during a conference call arranged by organizers of the recent fast-food protests. They seek back pay and other damages.

The announcement of the suits came on the same day U.S. President Barack Obama directed the Labor Department to devise new rules that would expand the number of workers eligible for overtime pay.

The White House, Democratic lawmakers and labour organizers have also been pushing to raise the federal minimum wage in the U.S. to $10.10 an hour, which translates to about $21,000 a year for full-time work. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.

McDonald’s, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said in a statement it is investigating the allegations and will take any necessary actions.

“McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants,” the company said.

Variety of violations

The lawsuits detail a range of violations, including the use of company software that monitors the ratio of labour costs as a percentage of revenue. When that ratio climbs above a target, attorneys in Michigan said, workers were forced to wait before they could clock in.

Workers in the state also were forced to pay for their own uniforms, which lawyers said reduced their already low wages.

In California, the violations cited included altered pay records and the denial of rest breaks.

In New York, lawyers said McDonald’s failed to reimburse workers for the cleaning of their uniforms, in violation of state law.

The lawsuits target both franchise- and company-owned restaurants. McDonald’s Corp. is named in all the suits, along with franchisees in some, because lawyers say the company exerts control over staffing at all its locations.

“There are a number of ways the two seem to work together,” said Joseph Sellers, one of the attorneys representing workers.

The vast majority of the more than 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. are owned by franchisees.

The workers named in the suits were referred to attorneys by the organizers of the recent fast-food protests that called for pay of $15 an hour. The Service Employees International Union has been providing financial and organizational support to that campaign, which has gained national media attention for more than a year.

A representative for BerlinRosen, the public relations agency co-ordinating media efforts for both the fast-food protests and the lawsuits, said the timing of the announcement on the same day as Obama’s overtime proposals was coincidental.

One of the lawsuits was filed in New York, two were filed in Michigan and three were filed in California. An amendment to an existing lawsuit in California was expected to be filed Thursday.

Organizations: Labor Department, Service Employees International Union

Geographic location: California, U.S., Michigan New York Oak Brook

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