Fast Food workers to rally against 'wage theft'

A coalition of unions, labor activists, and Democratic party politicians are joining with fast food workers to protest what they are calling "wage theft" - company practices that supposedly deny workers a fair wage. They have filed suit against McDonalds in three states to get them to halt certain practices that they say harm workers.

Just what is "wage theft"? Not surprisingly, it's whatever the unions say it is. This AP story has some very interesting examples:

Organizers have also been referring workers to attorneys, who filed lawsuits in three states last week saying McDonald's was stealing their wages in a variety of ways, such as by docking paychecks for the cost of their uniforms.

McDonald's Corp. said it planned to investigate the allegations and take necessary actions. A representative for the company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the planned protests.

The protests by labor groups since late 2012 have captured national media attention and served as an important backdrop for President Obama's push to lift workers' wages. The White House wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, or about $21,000 a year for full-time work. That's up from the current pay of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year, which was last raised in 2009.

Protest organizers are getting financial and organizational support from the Service Employees International Union, as well backing from local Democratic lawmakers and community leaders. In New York City, public advocate Tish James and others were expected to turn out Tuesday for a rally at a McDonald's near the Empire State Building.

"The lawsuits that were filed last week put McDonald's on notice that fast food workers are aware that they're getting their money stolen," said Kendall Fells, who works for the Service Employees International Union but said he was "on loan" to the campaign for higher wages.

Fells said the actions would target McDonald's restaurants, although fast-food workers from across the industry would participate.

The lawsuits filed in California, Michigan and New York against McDonald's detail a variety of "wage theft" allegations. In Michigan, for example, workers said they were made to wait before clocking in for their shifts so restaurants could maintain a target ratio of labor costs as a percentage of revenue. The suit describes a detailed monitoring system by McDonald's Corp. that closely tracks such metrics at its more than 14,000 restaurants in the U.S.

While such practices are widespread across the industry, lawyers said they targeted McDonald's because of its size and position as an industry leader.

The complaint about a company not paying for uniforms is valid - except it isn't a widespread practice in the industry. As in any other business, there appear to be bad actors who take advantage of workers - not following the rules of overtime and minimum wage jobs like this franchise operator in New York, for example.

But calling an effort by franchises to manage labor costs by preventing employees from clocking in early "wage theft"  is insane. Even in most union shops you can't clock in early - or clock out late - without specific authorization from management. "Wage theft" is a made-up complaint designed for PR purposes, and is not a huge problem in the industry

.Almost every workplace in the country has a list of rules and regulations governing their industry prominently displayed in a common area. It is there so employees are aware of when company practices violate the law. The posting has detailed instructions on what to do in order to file a complaint against the company, usually by contacting the state's labor board or attorney generals' office.

If there is "wage theft," do employees really need a union to read the rules for them? To file complaints for them?  It seems an awfully high price to pay for hundreds of dollars a year paid in union dues.


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