NEW YORK–(hospitalitybusinessnews.com)– Attorneys representing McDonald’s workers in California, Michigan and New York this week filed class action lawsuits in federal and state courts claiming the fast food giant is systematically stealing employees’ wages by forcing them to work off the clock, shaving hours off their time cards, and not paying them overtime, among other practices.
The suits, which were filed Wednesday and today, demand McDonald’s pay back these wages and stop its illegal theft of workers’ pay.
“We work hard, and our wages are already at rock bottom,” said Sharnell Grandberry, a McDonald’s worker in Detroit who earns about $250 each week and is a plaintiff in one of the Michigan suits. “It is time for McDonalds to stop skirting the law to pad profits. We need to get paid for the hours we work.”
According to national employment rights specialist Joseph M. Sellers, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC: “Despite reaping tremendous revenues and profits thanks to the labors of crew members who earn at or just above minimum wage, McDonald’s is unlawfully failing to pay its workers for all the hours they work and for necessary expenses they incur relating to the uniform McDonald’s requires them to wear. Not only do its practices cause a substantial financial burden for McDonald’s workers, they violate state and federal minimum wage laws as well as other state labor laws.” Sellers and his firm are co-counsel in the lawsuits filed in California and New York.
In three California suits, workers claim that McDonald’s and its franchise owners failed to pay them for all time worked, failed to pay proper overtime, altered pay records and deprived them of timely meal periods and rest breaks. A fourth case makes similar claims on behalf of a statewide class of workers in McDonald’s corporate-owned restaurants, who are adding their claims to a lawsuit for unpaid wages, penalties, and other relief that is already pending against McDonald’s in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“We’ve uncovered several unlawful schemes, but they all share a common purpose – to drive labor costs down by stealing wages from McDonald’s workers,” said Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon LLP, an attorney who filed the lawsuits in California Superior Court in Los Angeles and in Alameda counties. “These McDonald’s workers have courageously stepped forward to shine a light on these illegal practices, and already we’ve begun to hear from several co-workers with similar wage theft claims.”
In two Michigan suits, filed against McDonald’s Corp., its U.S. subsidiary and two Detroit-area franchisees, workers assert McDonald’s regularly forces workers to show up for work at a scheduled time but then has them wait without pay until the store gets busy enough, and that it routinely violates minimum wage laws.
The suits contend that, using McDonald’s franchisor standards and corporation-provided software, McDonald’s franchisees closely monitor the ratio of labor costs to revenues. When it exceeds a corporate-set target, managers tell workers arriving for their shifts to wait for up to an hour to clock in, and sometimes direct workers who have already clocked in for scheduled shifts to clock out for extended breaks until the target ratio is again achieved. Workers are not paid for these wait times, and McDonald’s Corporation knowingly tolerates this practice, in violation of federal labor law.
The suits also allege that McDonald’s forces its low-paid workers to buy their own uniforms. Because McDonald’s restaurants pay at or near the minimum wage, this drives some workers’ real wages below the legal minimum, in violation of federal labor law.
“The Detroit McDonald’s workers are coming into federal court for themselves and their co-workers because McDonald’s schedules them for work, but then makes them wait off the clock until enough customers arrive,” said David Dean of James & Hoffman, an attorney who filed the suits in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. “Federal law demands they be paid for such waiting time, and McDonald’s Corporation needs to stop tolerating this illegal practice.”
The case filed in New York federal court seeks to redress McDonald’s blatant failure to compensate and reimburse workers at its New York stores for the time and cost of cleaning uniforms—which McDonald’s requires them to wear and to keep clean.
The plaintiffs contend that McDonald’s failure to reimburse employees for uniform cleaning violates the New York state requirement to pay workers weekly for uniform maintenance and often also violates both federal and state minimum wage laws.
“Because McDonald’s restaurants pay so little, forcing workers to clean their Golden Arches uniforms on their own dime drives many workers’ wages below the legal minimum,” said James Rief of Gladstein, Reif and Meginniss LLP, an attorney who filed the lawsuit in United States District Court Eastern District of New York. “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.”
Taken together, these lawsuits in California, Michigan, and New York contend that McDonald’s, which raked in nearly $5.6 billion in profits last year, regularly fails to pay workers for all the hours they work.
The allegations are not isolated ones. A survey conducted in New York last year by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research showed that 84 percent of fast-food workers are victims of wage theft. In response to the survey, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation into pay practices in the state’s fast-food industry.
“Hidden from view among salaried workers, wage theft is a scourge that eats away at the livelihoods of already-underpaid hourly workers,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel at the National Employment Law Project. “As these cases show, it’s a persistent problem in too many low-wage industries like fast food, which is why the US Department of Labor has named restaurants and fast food as one of its priority industries for strategic enforcement. McDonald’s requires its workers to work off-the-clock, show up for work without consistent shifts, and deducts expenses from their already-meager pay, chiseling wages while earning billions in profits. These violations can run into the millions of dollars quite quickly, and as one of the largest low-wage employers in the country, McDonalds should be setting standards, not undermining them.”
“We are tired of McDonald’s abusive behavior,” said Guadalupe Salazar, a McDonald’s worker in California who earns about $480 for each 15-day pay period and is one of the plaintiffs. “The company continues to take advantage of me and my coworkers. We can’t allow them to play by a different set of rules just because they’re big. They need to respect us and this suit will help them do that.”
The California cases are Sanchez v. McDonald’s Restaurants of California, Inc., Salazar v. McDonald’s Corporation, Hughes v. McDonald’s Corporation, and Ochoa v. McDonald’s Corporation. The Michigan cases are Pullen v. McDonald’s Corporation and Wilson v. McDonald’s Corporation. The New York case is Beard v. McDonald’s Corporation.