McDonald's Workers Allege Wage Theft

Last week, McDonald's workers in three states filed seven lawsuits alleging that the company is systematically stealing wages through illegal pay practices including failure to pay overtime, forced work off the clock, and erasing hours from their timecards.  The lawsuits, filed in California, Michigan and New York, also accuse McDonald’s of denying workers meal periods and rest breaks, and requiring employees to buy their own uniforms or pay to clean those uniforms -- practices that brought the workers pay below the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.  Five of the seven lawsuits also name some of the company’s individual franchisees as defendants.  Two lawsuits filed in Michigan against McDonald’s and the Detroit-area franchise owners, allege that the restaurants told the worker to show up to work, but then ordered them to wait an hour or two without pay until enough customers arrived.  

These allegations are not unique to McDonald's -- these are the kinds of complaints our office often hears from restaurant employees and workers at car washes.  In fact, they are similar to the facts in several of our current and recent cases.  The McDonald's cases are remarkable for their potential size.  Just one of the cases was filed against the roughly 100 McDonald’s restaurants in California that are company-owned and operated.  That lawsuit seeks to be a class action representing 27,000 current and former McDonald’s employees.

If you want to learn more generally about these kinds of pay practices and their legality, visit our website here.

 

The Worst Restaurants to Work For: Is your employer on the list?

This year, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (“ROC-United”), a national restaurant workers’ organization, published a handy “Diners’ Guide” that provides information on wages, benefits and workplace standards at some of the most popular restaurants in the United States.  The guide reveals what many servers, cooks, and dishwashers already know: restaurant workers regularly face poverty wages, unsafe working conditions, racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination, or work while sick on a regular basis.  Now the Diners’ Guide, and the reality that it brings to light, is getting some much deserved attention.  Although the guide was published much earlier this year, recent stories published in the popular internet press, and by no less a foodie than the New York Times’ Mark Bittman, have brought renewed attention to the guide. 

Restaurant industry workers are standing up for themselves in other ways, too.  Servers at restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory (named one of the worst employers in the guide and press) are suing their employers to recover lost wages for time they are required to work off the clock and for uniforms and tools that they are required to provide for themselves.

Hopefully discussions and actions like this will work to change things in the business.  Do your part to ensure that servers aren’t forced to work off the clock, pay for employer-required uniforms, and aren’t forced to work while sick.  Learn what your rights are as a tipped employee and take the guide with you when you go out to eat.

Servers and Other Restaurant Workers Are Getting Short Changed

Minimum wage and overtime violations are rampant throughout the restaurant industry. These violations affect servers, bartenders, bus persons, hosts and hostesses, and kitchen staff. FLSA minimum wage and overtime violations in the restaurant industry are particularly disturbing because of the low wages earned by most restaurant workers. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports median hourly earnings (as of May 2004) for restaurant workers: fast-food cooks earn $7.07 per hour; waiters and waitresses (including tips) earn 6.75 per hour; bartenders (including tips) earn $7.42 per hour; and hosts and hostesses earn $7.52 per hour.

The scope of violations in the restaurant industry is evident by reviewing the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s enforcement record over the past several years.  Many restaurants across the country, particularly smaller ethnic restaurant chains, have been subject to DOL enforcement actions. 

Las Palmas Mexican Restaurants, for example, agreed to pay $130,698 in back overtime wages to 85 employees who worked at three restaurants in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Wage and Hour Division’s investigation revealed that servers, busboys, hostesses and kitchen staff had not been properly paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). 

La Tapatia Mexican Café y Cantina in Houston has paid $109,708 in back pay after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found 217 current and former servers and cooks had not been properly paid.  According to the Wage and Hour Division the company violated the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), by paying servers straight time for all hours worked and also by failing to pay overtime to non-exempt cooks.

A Federal Court in Minnesota ordered El Mariachi restaurants in Fairmont and Austin, Minnesota to pay 21 workers $39,931 in unpaid overtime compensation, minimum wages and liquidated damages.

In Indiana, 245 restaurant workers, including cooks, servers and bus persons recovered $350,041 because of the DOL’s efforts.  The workers were employed in 11 different restaurants throughout Indiana.  Another dozen Indian workers, kitchen workers at Mexico City Grill, in Indianapolis and Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant in Greenfield, Indiana were ordered to receive $10,000 in unpaid overtime wages.

In Austin, Texas eight kitchen staff employees recovered $51,347 in back wages from The New Mandarin Chinese Restaurant

Asian Super Buffet La. Inc. in Kenner, Louisiana violated the FLSA by including tips, meals and lodging as part of the wait staff’s compensation for hours worked, resulting in employee wages below the federal minimum wage. The company also failed to properly compensate employees for overtime hours and to maintain required records. As a result, Asian Super Buffet agreed to pay $77,218 in back wages to 26 current and former kitchen workers and wait staff. 

El Nopal Mexican Restaurant paid back wages totaling $95,800 due to 15 employees of the Valley Park, Missouri restaurant following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division. According to the investigation, the work force consisted of primarily low-wage Hispanic workers employed as servers and cooks.  Restaurant officials were found in violation of the minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Approximately $68,000 of the total was due from the minimum-wage provision violations, and the remaining $27,000 involved unpaid overtime compensation.

San Pietro Restaurant, an Italian eatery located in Midtown Manhattan, paid 45 employees a total of $102,216 in overtime back wages. According to a U.S. Department of Labor investigation, the restaurant improperly paid cooks, waiters and bus boys among others. The investigation found that many employees worked more than 40 hours a week without receiving overtime pay. Investigators determined that employees worked an average of 52 hours per week. Management officials of San Pietro Restaurant agreed to pay employees the back wages they were due and to come into full compliance with the FLSA in the future.

While most of the DOL’s enforcement actions have targeted local restaurant chains. National chains and franchises face similar issues. In 2006, the DOL filed a lawsuit against Barbeque Ventures LLC, Barbeque Ventures of Nebraska LLC and Old Market Ventures LLC, known as Famous Dave’s, to collect $92,516 in back wages due 25 employees. The department alleged that the employees (kitchen workers and servers) at all five Famous Dave’s locations in Omaha and Bellevue, Nebraska, and Council Bluffs, Iowa were not paid overtime.

In Nashville a restaurant worker at two Sbarro Restaurants, operated by franchisee F & S Foods, Inc., filed a federal lawsuit claiming that he and his co-workers were not properly paid for overtime hours and were required to work off the clock without compensation. The employer told the Court that it had compensated its employees for unpaid overtime and agreed to the entry of an $11,000 judgment in favor of the one employee who filed the lawsuit.