McDonald's employees in California, Michigan and New York have launched class action lawsuits against the company and its franchises for wage theft. A 2013 report released by Fast Food Forward found that 84 percent of New York City fast-food workers had experienced some form of wage theft. Now, workers are taking action, alleging that their employer underpaid them for overtime and required them to work without clocking their hours, among other charges. The McDonald's corporation has previously protected itself from such suits by shifting the responsibility onto individual franchises. The new cases identify the role the corporation plays in daily operations, which could make the corporation liable for the for the widespread labor abuses in its restaurants. Salon's Josh Eidelsen reports: The most significant threat posed by the potential class actions – one apparent arm in a campaign of media, consumer, political, economic and workplace pressure on fast food giants – may be its potential to draw scrutiny and force disclosures about the relationship between the giant McDonald’s corporation, which netted over $5 billion in profit last year, and its smaller individual franchisees, which are the legal employers of most McDonald’s workers. “In the past, McDonald’s has tried to shield itself from liability,” said Joseph Sellers, one of the attorneys bringing suit. But “we found evidence that McDonald’s has indeed exerted control over the daily operations” of the franchised stores that “makes it legally jointly responsible” for the alleged crimes. In California, workers are alleging wage theft at directly corporate-owned McDonald’s stores as well as at franchisee locations. … [A] California judge has found sufficient evidence to make Wal-Mart a co-defendant in a lawsuit, Carrillo v. Schneider, over alleged wage theft in one of the retail giant’s subcontracted warehouse hubs. Today’s suits follow letters from Reps. George Miller and Joe Courtney, issued last week to McDonald’s and four other top fast food corporations, stating that media coverage “points to an alarmingly widespread pattern of illegal pay practices,” and requesting information about each chain’s “labor policies and practices vis-à-vis its franchise relationships nationwide.” The lawsuits are the lastest in an ongoing movement to improve the wages and working conditions of fast food workers. With the backing of the the Service Employees International Union, workers have orchestrated numerous city-level campaigns, strikes and walkouts over the past two years.
Sarah Berlin is an intern at In These Times.