Fast-food workers sue McDonald's, claim wage theft

Liz Goodwin
Yahoo News
Demonstrator Zev Nicholson, of Boston, left, holds a placard and chants during a protest outside a McDonalds fast foot restaurant, Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Boston, held to call attention to the denial of overtime pay and other violations protesters say deprive workers of the money they're owed. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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Fast-food workers from three states are suing McDonald's, claiming a variety of wage theft practices, including forcing workers to clock out but remain at work, docking pay to purchase company-required uniforms and stiffing employees on overtime.

Two dozen McDonald's workers are named plaintiffs in the six lawsuits filed Wednesday and Thursday in Michigan, California and New York. But if the courts grant the suits class action status, tens of thousands more workers could join.

“Our clients are among the most economically vulnerable, and they work for a company that earned more than $5 billion in profits,” said Joe Sellers, an attorney who filed the suits in New York and California.

“We are currently reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits," said McDonald's spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem in a statement. "McDonald’s and our independent franchisees are committed to undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations and will take any necessary actions as they apply to our respective organizations.”

The class action suits name both McDonald's the corporation and specific franchise owners. About 90 percent of U.S. McDonald's stores are franchise owned.

The suits follow a year of fast-food worker protests and strikes in New York City and several other cities, where workers demanded a $15 minimum wage. Fast-food and other low-wage jobs have been growing more rapidly than middle-wage jobs since 2008, adding fuel to a national debate about the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the country. President Barack Obama has said he wants to raise the federal wage higher than its current $7.25, but for now has settled for raising the federal contractor minimum wage to $10.10, which does not require congressional action. The president is asking the Labor Department to crack down on overtime abuses.

Workers in Michigan’s McDonald's franchises said their paychecks were docked for mandatory uniforms, which lowered their pay below minimum wage. A similar suit filed in New York Thursday says workers’ uniform cleaning fees make their wages illegally low.

"With $28 billion in revenue in 2013 alone, McDonald’s can certainly afford to provide its minimum-wage workers with this money to clean their uniforms, as required by law, instead of making them pay for the privilege of wearing McDonald’s advertising," Jim Reif, the attorney who filed the New York suit, said in a statement.

Other Michigan workers said they were forced to wait for stores to get busy before they were allowed to clock in at the beginning of their shifts. Special McDonald's software monitors when labor costs are exceeding revenue in each store. Workers said when the software alerted owners that revenue was dipping, they were forced to wait for business to pick up before being allowed to clock in. Workers were not compensated for the wait time.

Three in four low-wage workers say they have been asked to work off the clock without pay and have not been paid overtime wages, according to a survey by the advocacy group the National Employment Law Project. The average low-wage worker loses $2,600 per year due to illegal wage theft, according to the survey.

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