Labor activists continue push to stop fast food restaurant wage theft

04/03/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: McDonald's, fast food, wage theft, minimum wage, labor


An activist wears a giant Ronald McDonald puppet during a wage theft protest in front of McDonald's

photo by Janelle Irwin

Nationwide protests against low pay and wage theft at fast food restaurants continue. In Tampa, several fast food workers joined community activists at both Wendy’s and McDonald’s Thursday on West Kennedy Boulevard to raise awareness for what they consider unfair treatment of employees. Mareshia Knight works part time at the McDonald’s. She claims she worked 52 hours one week, but wasn’t paid for all of them.

“It’s kind of crazy that they only gave me, like, $12.50 back I think it was. So, it was just like, that’s all that they said that they owed me was $12.50 back out of all the hours that they counted from when I first worked here.”

Knight stayed behind in the Wendy’s parking lot as about 20 activists marched across the street with signs and a giant Ronald McDonald puppet. She feared her managers may see her and retaliate by cutting her hours or, worse, firing her. A co-worker, Lakiya Thompson stayed with her.

“I don’t feel like we get paid enough. It seems like we work hard and the paycheck [is] like, $200, $300 at the most and not enough to support [us.]”

And that, according to Charles Jefferson, is how companies like McDonald’s get away with skimming money off workers’ pay. Jefferson, who is a community organizer with Organize Now, says the amount is often small and easy to sneak past employees.

“The time that the employee works there is a lot of times not that long; it’s a quick turnaround. So, you keep employees in fear of losing their job and kind of accepting whatever they get. You know, that’s just kind of the mentality of people. They really don’t check their hours verses what’s on the paycheck. As long as their getting a paycheck and it’s close to what they thought they should get than, a lot of times that’s just OK for them.”

A UC Berkeley Labor Center study from last year outlines the cost of low wages to middle-class Americans. Nearly $7 billion are spent annually on food stamps, subsidized healthcare and the Earned Income tax credit for low-wage fast food workers. But another report by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United shows the restaurant lobby fighting to keep wages low has grown from 15 lobbyists in 2008 to 37 last year. Jefferson from Organize Now said the nationwide push by community activists aims at countering the industry’s power.

“Until we get them to notice that we’ve got our eye on you and it’s not going to work, then that’s when the change will happen.”

President Barack Obama is pushing to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. In Florida, it’s currently $7.79. Some groups are pushing for as much as $15 dollars an hour. But the Tampa group has shifted focus to wage theft because what an employee is owed is less important if they’re not being paid for all of their work. Jefferson says wage theft isn’t just about working off the clock.

“There’s some people who are required to pay money back if their drawer is short they have to pay out of their pocket. If you do any kind of work off the clock it’s wage theft. There’s a lot of different issues that happen to people everyday and they just don’t realize that it’s a crime.”

But a large part of wage theft claims include employees who say they haven’t been paid for all of the time they put in. Marc Turner works at the Dunkin' Donuts on Hillsborough Avenue. He claims managers have required employees to attend meetings off the clock.

“Your boss might bring you a pizza and a soda and that’s all you’re going to get. But I need money because I’ve got two kids that need my support.”

A statement from Dunkin' Donuts says, "Dunkin' Donuts restaurants are owned and operated by individual franchisees who are responsible for making their own business decisions such as hours of operation, employee wages and the benefits they offer their employees. They are required to comply with all state, federal and local laws."

In a statement from McDonald’s, spokesperson Lisa McComb writes, “When McDonald’s learns of pay concerns in restaurants, which we own and operate, we review the concerns and take appropriate action to resolve them. We trust that our independent owner/operators do the same. McDonald’s and our owner operators employ separately but in total over 750,000 workers in the United States, and we caution against drawing broad conclusions based on a small, random informal sampling.”

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Hooray! About time! We need a movement in support of low wage workers, before this country divides completely between the very rich and the very poor.