McDonald’s Workers File Wage Suits in 3 States
By Steven Greenhouse
March 13, 2014
McDonald’s workers in California, Michigan and New York filed lawsuits this week against the company and several franchise owners, asserting that they illegally underpaid employees by erasing hours from their timecards, not paying overtime and ordering them to work off the clock.
The lawsuits were announced Thursday by the employees’ lawyers and organizers of the union-backed movement that is pressing the nation’s fast-food restaurants to increase wages to at least $15 an hour.
In two lawsuits filed in Michigan against McDonald’s and two Detroit-area franchise owners, workers claimed that their restaurants told them to show up to work, but then ordered them to wait an hour or two without pay until enough customers arrived.
Those lawsuits also argued that a McDonald’s requirement that employees pay for their uniforms illegally reduced their pay below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
“Our wages are already at rock bottom,” Sharnell Grandberry, a McDonald’s worker in Detroit, said in a news release announcing the suit. “It is time for McDonald’s to stop skirting the law to pad profits. We need to get paid for the hours we work.”
A McDonald’s spokeswoman released this statement: “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.”
In three lawsuits brought in California, the workers claim that the McDonald’s restaurants employing them did not pay them for all hours worked, shaved hours from pay records and denied them required meal periods and rest breaks.
The lawyers are contending that McDonald’s should be considered a joint employer and share liability with its franchisees, although the company, like many other fast-food chains with franchises, has argued in the past that it is not a joint employer and should not be liable for its franchisees’ misdeeds on the ground that the franchised restaurants are independently run businesses.
The strategists behind the push for a $15 wage, which is largely financed by the Service Employees International Union, are trying to pressure McDonald’s and other fast-food chains to increase wages and not oppose union-organizing efforts. The movement began with several one-day strikes in New York in 2012 and expanded to one-day strikes in more than 70 cities last December.
Several McDonald’s workers also filed suit in New York, contending that they were not reimbursed for the cost of cleaning their uniforms. “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 Jim Reif, a lawyer for the New York plaintiffs.
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.
The lawyers said most McDonald’s franchisees used software provided by the company that calculates employee-to-sales ratios and instructs restaurants to reduce staffing when sales drop below a certain level in any given hour. As a result, the lawyers said, some McDonald’s workers in the suit were ordered, upon reporting to work, not to clock in for an hour or two and instead wait until more customers arrived.
In several lawsuits, workers contend that they were at times told to clock out but remain in the restaurant or parking lot for an hour to two after business slowed down — perhaps when business slackened after the breakfast rush — so they could be on hand to clock back in when hourly sales picked up.
Jason Hughes, a McDonald’s employee in Fremont, Calif., said sometimes he was ordered to punch out soon after starting work and to hang around unpaid. “I’d have to be ready to punch in as soon as the store gets busy,” he said. “When the store is understaffed, our management would tell us we can’t take our breaks.”