Former Dunkin' Donuts franchise workers filed a federal class action lawsuit Wednesday, alleging wage theft at 16 downtown Chicago locations operated by the same owner.
The suit alleges that the franchise owner frequently made unauthorized deductions from workers' paychecks for cash register shortages, manipulated time cards and failed to pay the minimum wage and overtime.
Christina Padilla, 23, is one of two former Dunkin' Donuts franchise workers named as plaintiffs in the suit, which is seeking class action status to cover over 100 current and former employees of the locations in question.
"Workers have [had their] wages stolen, and they have been mistreated until they quit," Padilla said in announcing the class action suit.
Joined by her attorneys and supporters from the Arise Chicago worker center, Padilla spoke outside the Dunkin' Donuts at 229 W. Jackson Blvd., one of the 16 franchise locations named in the complaint.
"At those  locations, inappropriate wage deductions and many forms of wage theft are occurring, and that's what we're going after in the current lawsuit," said CALA's Lam Ho. "But that's not all that we're gonna be working on. One of the things that's really important to us, and one of the most essential elements of today's action, is about empowering workers like Christina and organizations like Arise to use, not only the legal system, but other strategies to make sure that this is not happening to anyone, any worker, anywhere."
Since December 2013, Padilla worked at two Dunkin' Donuts locations owned by the franchisee named in the suit. Most recently, she was a shift supervisor at the Jackson restaurant before quitting last August.
Speaking about the alleged wage and timesheet violations she witnessed as a Dunkin' Donuts franchise employee, Padilla said cashiers with register shortages experienced unauthorized wage deductions from their paychecks. Workers, she added, have also been on the hook for bank fees when their paychecks have bounced due to issues on the employer's end.
As a supervisor, Padilla said she was not paid for work she was required to do at home, such as rearranging shifts when workers called off. Employees were also required to clock out while running work-related errands, she claimed.
The employer "didn't want anyone to hit overtime" for hours worked beyond 40 a week, she said. The franchise owner, Padilla explained, has allegedly adjusted time cards to push workers' hours below the overtime threshold.
"They hardly ever paid me my overtime," said Padilla, who was an hourly employee. "They're like, 'Your raise is your overtime. So that's what you're getting paid.' And a lot of times they would cut my own hours."
Padilla claimed there was, and continues to be, a fear among workers of being fired or written up for speaking out about payroll issues. She decided to quit last August because she could no longer work in such an environment.
"No worker should feel intimidated by their boss for standing for their rights," Padilla said.
Here is more from Padilla:
As part of the lawsuit, workers are seeking to recover an unspecified amount of unpaid wages, among other damages.
Defendants named in the suit include Ruby Foods Inc., Standard Foods Inc., Moonstone Foods Enterprises LLC, Sirajuddin Virani and Faisal Merchant. Attempts to reach the defendants for comment were unsuccessful.
Carolyn Morales, an Arise Chicago organizer, said wage theft is an issue impacting workers across various industries.
"It's a huge problem, not only in the city of Chicago, but across the nation," she said. "It happens in any type of industry that we've seen, but is really concentrated with low-wage workers who are working often the hardest, the most amount of hours, who need the money the most. And they're getting it stolen each and every day."