New York Attorney General Investigates Fast Food Wage Theft

Wage, hour and overtime lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm recently reported on the walkouts staged by fast food workers in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis in protest of poverty wages and unfair labor practices. Further aggravating the issue, the New York Attorney General recently announced that it is investigating at least one fast food chain for widespread wage theft.

On April 4, 2013, the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, thousands of NYC fast food workers walked out of their jobs in protest. Two weeks later, on April 24, a similar protest occurred in Chicago, as fast food and retail workers from Dunkin Donuts, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Subway, and Victoria’s Secret gathered at Union Station to fight for higher living wages. Another protest took place on May 9 in St. Louis, Missouri and in Detroit, Michigan a day later.

These workers are asking only for enough to live on – nationwide, the average fast food worker earns about $11,300 a year, well below the poverty line. In New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the world, many workers who work full-time are forced to live in homeless shelters, use food stamps, rely on public assistance for their children’s healthcare, and often don’t even have enough money to buy the fast food they are selling.

In response to this movement, dubbed Fast Food Forward, the office of the New York Attorney General recently announced its investigation into at least one of the companies accused of unjustly, fraudulently, and maliciously underpaying its workers. Adding insult to injury, the company (which was not named) is now facing allegations of widespread wage-theft, meaning it habitually and knowingly cheated its workers out of their already meager earnings. The office recently issued subpoenas and is investigating several of the company’s New York franchise owners.

A newly released report surveyed 500 of NYC’s fast food workers and found that 84% of them were victim to some type of wage theft in 2012. Types of wage theft violations included (but are not limited to) unpaid overtime, disallowing legally required breaks, late or bounced checks, forcing to work without pay, and forcing delivery people to pay for their transportation repairs and gas without compensation.

In the wake of the Great Recession, fast food positions have become a larger and much more prominent sector of the nation’s urban economy. In NYC, for example, private sector job growth between 1999 and 2011 was a dismal three percent. Conversely, fast food jobs during the same period grew at a rate of 55%. In Detroit, for example, fast food jobs now out-number auto industry positions two-to-one. Once dismissed as positions for teenagers or temporary situations, labor groups have paid increasingly higher attention to the struggles of fast food workers in recent years.

According to the Fast Food Forward Wage Theft Report, chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Domino’s among others, are stealing wages from workers in a wide variety of ways. In the same aforementioned survey of more than 500 fast food workers, two-thirds reports that their employer perpetuated at least two forms of wage theft – and nearly half reported at least three different kinds.

Workers are fighting not only for a raise in their wages but for the right to organize as a union as well. Fast food is a 200 billion dollar industry that can more than afford to pay its workers enough money to stay above the poverty line. Despite this obvious fact, nearly 50% of workers earn $7.25 or less per hour, and 40% have never received any kind of raise. One of the most common forms of unpaid work in the industry is working off the clock, such as counting the register at the beginning and end of shifts not on the clock.

Employment attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm affirm that there are nearly 3 million Americans employed as “food prep and serving workers,” making these among the most common jobs as well as the lowest paying. Our attorneys ardently advocate on behalf of mistreated workers and their families, and can ensure you will receive the best representation and largest settlement possible if you have suffered any wage theft from your employer.