Not so Happy Meals – McDonald’s sued for violating employee’s working and wages rights

The fast food franchise McDonald’s came under attack this week as they faced lawsuits from workers in California, Michigan and New York. The six new lawsuits assert that it was standard practice for McDonalds to regularly force certain regulations, leaving their employees working under the minimum wage. These regulations included making workers pay to have their uniforms cleaned out of their own salaries, and forcing them to work off the clock without remuneration.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

So far only 27 plaintiffs have filed suits in state and federal courts, but the consensus is that if these complainants win their cases, this will then set a precedent for potentially thousands of other workers, both past and present to file their own.

The Californian attorney representing the workers, Joe Sellers said: “They were requiring employees to perform work that was simply never paid,” he added: “Our clients are among the most economically vulnerable in our society, and they work for a company that generated more than $28 billion in revenue last year and earned more than $5 billion in profits.”

McDonald’s responded with a statement from their spokesperson, Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem who said: “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.”

These types of allegations are apparently nothing new to the fast-food industry, where workers are expected to fork out time and money for their own cleaning bills, and are expected to work when they have clocked off. However, the spotlight has been firmly placed onto McDonalds as they have already faced criticism on rates of pay for their employees. This new litigation will only serve to highlight the company’s pay practices at a very delicate time.

It is thought that some of the plaintiffs have received advice from the Service Employees International Union and associates, the same union that were instrumental in organizing the fast-food strikes that hit Detroit, Washington and New York. Washington, D.C. saw dozens of people with banners and singing “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, it’s no fun, to survive, on low low low low pay.” There were around 100 protesters who blew whistles and beat drums in New York, as they chanted: “We can’t survive on $7.25” whilst in Detroit, more than 100 workers picketed outside two McDonald’s restaurants, singing “Hey hey, ho ho, $7.40 has got to go!”

Fast-food restaurants are typically associated with minimum or the lower end of the wages scale when it comes to salaries, but as Jason Hughes, one of the plaintiffs in the California lawsuits pointed out: “When I took job at McDonald’s I knew I wouldn’t make a lot of money, but I thought a well-known company like McDonald’s would treat me fairly and at least follow the law,” he added, “We brought this lawsuit because they haven’t done either.” Hughes worked at a McDonald’s location in Fremont, Calif., for two years.

The lawsuits in Michigan and New York are based on the loss of wages in regards to uniforms, with Michigan workers claiming that uniform fees were unfairly deducted from their paychecks, which left their earnings below the minimum wage, whilst New York employees allege that they were never compensated for the time and money they had to spend on cleaning their uniforms, as the company required them to.

All the lawsuits have named McDonald’s as the defendant, despite there being only a small percentage of the company directly operating the restaurants. Most are run by franchises. However, Sellers said that there was “evidence” that McDonald’s is “jointly responsible for illegal pay practices” in restaurants run by franchisees, as well as the company.

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