The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Los Angeles fast food workers protest alleged wage theft

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More than a dozen fast food workers and their supporters spoke and performed street theater Thursday outside a McDonalds in South Los Angeles.  

Some of the performers were local examples of the results of a  recent national survey that showed 89 percent of fast food workers believe they've been the victim of wage theft. 

"Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar are stealing wages," shouted the narrator into a bullhorn.  23-year-old Jose Paz, who works at the McDonalds, played the policeman bringing the costumed 'thieves' to justice.

"When we punch in and punch out, those are edited out and sometimes we don't see hours or minutes that we worked for those two weeks," said Paz, who has worked at the McDonalds for three years.  He added that he's also been forced to buy supplies needed on the job, like dishwashing fluid and a hat. 

Hart Research and Associates conducted the nationwide survey for the 'Low Pay is Not OK' campaign, polling more than a thousand fast food workers.  The survey said 84% of workers at McDonald’s, 92% of workers at Burger King, and 82% of workers at Wendy’s reported that they have experienced some form of wage theft at their jobs.  

 Other findings:

  • 60% of workers say they  have been required to perform tasks before clocking in, or after clocking out, with 46% being forced to do so multiple times; 

  • 43% have been denied a break during long shifts

  • And 48% of workers who have worked more than 40 hours in a single week (26% of all fast food workers) say that they do not always receive the overtime pay that they are owed. 

Similar protests occurred in 30 cities on Tuesday, the same day New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced  a $500,000 settlement with one McDonald’s franchisee,  after failing to reimburse workers for laundering their uniforms, as Forbes reports.

In a statement on the McDonalds website, spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem wrote:

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 owner-operators are each committed to undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations and will take any necessary actions as they apply to our respective organizations.

Burger King's response:

Burger King Corp. (BKC)  respects the rights of all workers; however, BKC does not make scheduling, wage or other employment-related decisions for the franchisees who independently own and operate almost 100% of BURGER KING® restaurants.

Chris Tilly, director of the UCLA Institute on Labor and Employment, who together with his colleagues are studying wage theft, said it's becoming more common against more vulnerable workers without job security, like  immigrants and  young workers, and  the agencies that would crack down on it don’t have the personnel to keep up.

"If you’re an immigrant, if you’re a teenager, this is not necessarily an easy kind of complaint to bring," Tilly said.

The 'Low Pay is Not OK' campaign is part of a nationwide push  to raise the pay of fast food workers to $15 an hour and allow them to join unions. 

Jose Paz said he earns $8 an hour and that he hadn't noticed any missing pay until union organizers brought it to his attention.

"In the beginning, I never really saved my pay stubs nor my punch-ins," Paz told KPCC.  "But the union told me about how they steal our wages, and  ever since, I've been checking them. We get paid every two weeks, and sometimes when we look at our check and then look at our time-stamps, they don't add up."



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