Employees of McDonalds are suing the corporation and several franchise owners for unpaid wages. Seven lawsuits claiming wage theft have been filed in state or federal courts in California, New York, and Michigan. The suits represent 27 plaintiffs and all are seeking class or collective action certification. The lawsuits were announced March 13.
The employees claim they were not paid for overtime, had hours erased from their time cards and were ordered to work off the clock, usually during times when the restaurant was not busy. They also claim they were told to come to work but not paid until customers started arriving. Uniforms are another big issue in the lawsuit. McDonalds employees are required to pay for the purchase and cleaning of their uniforms, which they say brings their pay below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Service Employees International Union has been pushing restaurant chains to raise wages to $15 per hour and has targeted McDonalds in particular due to an employee help line called the McResource site that suggested employees get a second job or apply for public assistance to make ends meet. The site has since been taken down.
The median wage for fast food workers around the country is about $9 per hour, or $18,500 per year. This is well below the federal poverty income level of $23,000 for a family of four. The University of California, Berkeley Labor Center and the University of Illinois released a report in October, 2013, that stated that more than half of families of fast food workers get some form of public assistance, at a $7 billion annual cost to taxpayers, although Justin Winslow of the Michigan Restaurant Association says that many fast-food workers are young people who work part-time, not career food service employees.
The unpaid wages suit by McDonalds Employees highlights provisions of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets national rules for minimum wage, record-keeping, and overtime pay. The FLSA says that any employee who is “Suffered or Permitted” to work must be paid. It specifies that waiting, or on call, time that is required on the employer’s premises is considered work time and must be paid.
The FLSA also requires that employees must receive at least the federal minimum wage, plus overtime of at least one-and-one-half times their regular rate of pay, if they work more than 40 hours per week. It also stipulates that if the employee is required to pay for their own uniforms the deduction cannot drop them below minimum wage.
The Labor Department has required McDonalds corporation and franchises to pay back wages more than 300 times since 1985 for FLSA violations.
Food service workers have recently waged one-day strikes in Washington DC, New York City and Detroit, picketing for the $15 minimum wage.
There has been substantial push back by the restaurant industry against the movement for a $15 per hour minimum wage. The industry says that the 67 percent raise would raise consumer prices by an average of 60 percent, increasing the cost of a $3 hamburger to over $3.50.
A McDonalds spokeswoman responding to the employees’ suit for unpaid wages says they share a concern and commitment to the fair treatment and well-being of their employees. She says the corporation is reviewing the allegations.
By Beth A. Balen