If there is one thing worse than being paid minimum wage, it is NOT being paid minimum wage. Add to that not getting your time-and-a-half wages for overtime work, not getting lunch or bathroom breaks, and even being forced to work hours off the clock, and you have one heck of a pissed off work-force. Alleging these violations of federal labor laws, McDonald’s workers in California, Michigan, and New York, filed suit against the company, and several of the franchise owners accused of these shady practices. The lawsuits, involving over 25,000 McDonald’s workers, were announced on March 6 by the lawyers of the employees and labor organizers who have been pushing for increased wages in fast-food restaurants.
According to the piece in the New York Times:
All told, seven lawsuits have been filed, including one against the roughly 100 McDonald’s restaurants in California that are company-owned and operated. That lawsuit aims to be a class action representing 27,000 current and former McDonald’s employees.
How could this kind of thing happen? Well, since I’ve been working from the age of 14 (illegally, yep) I’ve had all sorts of confused employers. For example, some of the Michigan McDonald’s workers said that they had been forced to show up for work, but had to then stand around without pay until customers finally showed up! Whatever the reason for this gross violation of labor laws, I’ve actually had this happen to me when my manager (at a Waffle House…no bad blood against Waffle House, this guy was an idiot) thought he didn’t have to pay me if I wasn’t cooking anything! I protested that, indeed, I actually was required to do side-work, but even if I was just made to stand around, if I’m made to come into work, I MUST be paid. It’s as simple as that. Otherwise, send me home.
Another time, I had worked a triple shift, as a minor, which means I had worked over 18 hours straight, which at a Waffle House is a hell of a shift as a cook. But I was covering for two other cooks who couldn’t come in. I had a new manager (there was a revolving door for managers) who, unaware that we had been told to ignore the “work chart” in the back room, complained that I had failed to do my various side-work, which included dusting the light fixtures behind the counter, and several other cleaning duties. He forced me to stay for the time it took me to finish all these other duties, which means I ended up working almost 24 hours straight! You cannot force someone to work that kind of overtime but this guy thought that I was the one being unreasonable. Moral: Employers often don’t have a clue what they are doing.
In another version of the McDonald’s complaint, workers were told to clock out but hang around in the parking lot during slow business hours, so they would be nearby and ready to clock back in when the store was busy again. Maybe they should issue old-fashioned pagers and McDonald’s workers could be on call like emergency room docs.
Other complaints were that McDonald’s requires employees to pay for their uniforms, which, in essence, reduces pay below the federally mandated minimum wage of 7.25 per hour. Workers in New York complained that they were not reimbursed for the cost of cleaning their uniforms. I am not sure about this particular complaint. I’ve had a couple of work uniforms to clean in my time, and they were never dry-clean only. Are McDonald’s uniforms dry-clean only? I would doubt it. How would the cost of washing your uniform at home be itemized? This may be a bit frivolous. Should other employers who don’t require a uniform pay me for washing my work clothes? Perhaps I don’t understand this one, but, apparently, such laundry stipends are legally required.
Workers in California claimed that they were not paid for all hours work, and even worse, that worked ours were actually removed from their time cards, and that they were not allowed to take lunch breaks (or meal periods to put it another way), or rest breaks.
According to the company, “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. We are currently reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits. 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.”
They also complained that since they are a joint employer, franchise owners should share in the responsibility. This, despite the fact, according to the Times article, that they have in the past denied being a joint employer and that they should not be liable for the misdeeds of franchise owners, who have independently run businesses. Out of the seven lawsuits, five of them are aimed at both franchisees and the company. McDonald’s, by the way, owns ten percent of its restaurants.
The company may be getting its wish since there have already been some victories against franchise owners. Richard Cisneros, owner of seven McDonald’s restaurant franchises, agreed to pay workers $500,000 for unpaid laundry allowances, uncompensated work time and unlawful wage deductions. This money will go to 1600 current and former employees.
None of this is exactly a new development, as fast-food strikes have been erupting all over the place, including almost 60 U.S. cities, and elsewhere in the world. The image above shows a strike that was a part of the effort to get a $15-per-hour minimum wage. It is no secret the McDonald’s and other fast-food employees are often below the poverty line, and, apparently, a McDonald’s help-line once advised that workers who were having financial difficulties should apply for food stamps, although this has now been taken down.