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Wage theft accusations dominate suit against McDonald’s

Stephon Johnson | 3/20/2014, 2:18 p.m.
Looks like the spotlight on McDonald’s and its pay practices will be a little bit brighter in 2014.
Fast food worker's strikers at the McDonald's in Times Square on April 4, 2013 Photo by Courtenay Brown

Looks like the spotlight on McDonald’s and its pay practices will be a little bit brighter in 2014.

Last week, workers filed class-action lawsuits in California, Michigan and New York accusing the fast-food giant of stealing employees’ wages by forcing them to work off the clock, not paying them overtime and shaving hours off their time cards, along with other violations. The lawsuits demand that McDonald’s pay back stolen wages and end their practices immediately.

McDonald’s made close to $5.6 billion in profits in 2013.

In New York, the case filed in federal court wants to redress failures to reimburse workers at McDonald’s New York stores for the time and cost of cleaning uniforms. McDonald’s requires that employees keep their uniforms clean.

The plaintiffs in the suit contend that McDonald’s failures to reimburse employees for uniform cleaning violates the state of New York’s requirement to pay workers weekly for uniform maintenance, and it violates federal and state minimum wage laws.

Jim Reig, an attorney from the firm Gladstein, Reif and Meginniss who is representing workers in the suit, said workers not being reimbursed for cleaning uniforms are stuck with a net loss for the hours of work they put in.

“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 Reif in a statement. “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.”

Joseph M. Sellers, of Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLC, co-counsel in the lawsuits filed in California and New York, echoed similar sentiments.

“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,” said Sellers. “Not only does 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.”

In Michigan, suits filed against McDonald’s Corp., its U.S. subsidiary and two Detroit-area franchises accuse them of regularly forcing workers to show up for work but making them wait without pay until enough customers show up. The suits also accuse McDonald’s of using franchisor standards and corporation-provided software to monitor the ratio of labor costs to revenues. If the ratio ever exceeds a corporate-set target, managers tell workers arriving at their shifts to wait up to an hour before clocking in or ask workers who already clocked in for shifts to clock out for extended breaks until the target ratio was reached. Workers aren’t paid for these work times.

“We work hard, and our wages are already at rock bottom,” said Sharnell Grandberry, a Detroit-based McDonald’s worker who earns about $250 each week, in a statement. “It is time for McDonald’s to stop skirting the law to pad profits. We need to get paid for the hours we work.” She’s also a plaintiff in the Michigan suit.