Quick Hit Anthony Burke Boylan Friday April 4th, 2014, 12:57pm

Chicago McDonald's Workers Protest Against Wage Theft

As fans filed into the McDonald’s All-American Games Wednesday evening, paying as much as $135 for a ticket to watch basketball played by future millionaires, fast food workers stood across the street in hopes of simply being paid what they are owed.

More than 30 employees and organizers were protesting the theft of their wages from McDonald’s Corp. and its franchisees on the heels of a survey released this week that found 89 percent of fast food workers — 92 percent in Chicago — believe they have had wages stolen by their employer.

Protest signs supported the high school athletes playing in the annual basketball game, but condemned McDonald’s — a company that earned more than $5.6 billion last year and paid its CEO more than $13 million — for stealing from those who can least afford it. Chants included “every nickel, every dime, we deserve our overtime.’’

The survey follows a startling admission by former McDonald’s managers who say they were forced to doctor time records, made employees work off the clock, and denied breaks to workers.

“They punch us out before we leave, while we’re still on our shifts,’’ said Adriana Sanchez, 41, a mother of four children who works at the Rock ‘n Roll McDonald’s in Chicago's River North neighborhood. “We don’t know if we are paid for the hours we work."

“We ask too about our checks and they don’t tell us anything,’’ she added.

Lawsuits on behalf of workers have been filed against McDonald's in three states, New York, Michigan, and California. Chicago organizers haven’t announced a suit here, but say they are weighing legal options.

Those lawsuits and other mounting evidence indicate workers are being cheated in three categories: 

  1. They routinely have to perform part of their job, such as counting a cash drawer and doing paperwork, before or after their paid shift. 
  2. Time cards and other documents are altered to reflect fewer hours than an employee worked.
  3. The employees are sometimes denied overtime after having worked  more than 40 hours a week.

The wage theft alleged is to hold down labor costs and increase profits. A fast food worker in Illinois earning the minimum wage of $8.25 an hour makes $330 for a 40-hour week before taxes and other deductions are taken out. Raises in the industry are rare because of the focus on labor costs, so employees seldom make significantly more than the minimum wage.

Cedric Partida, 20, meticulously keeps track of his hours at a Cicero McDonald's and his checks always seem to come up short.

“I’ve asked three times to review my hours and I never get a response,’’ he said. “I can do the math. It should be simple to prove, so if they had nothing to hide why wouldn’t they let us see how they add up our checks?’’

Wage theft isn’t uncommon, especially in low-wage industries where workers have little recourse, but a wave of similar cases have hit the news recently. Cases of wage theft have been settled with or alleged against Dominos, Walmart, and many other businesses, and earlier this year celebrity chef Mario Batali and a business partner settled a lawsuit over stolen employee tips and, as a result, $5.25 million is set to be split among 1,100 class action litigants. It is considered the largest tip-skimming case in history, though there have been many large ones.

The survey of more than 1,000 fast-food workers in 10 major markets released on Monday showed wage theft to be rampant in the industry. According to the survey, 60 percent of workers reported to having been cheated in all three major categories of wage theft.

Some other the findings:

  • 60% were required to perform tasks before or after their paid shift.
  • 46% were not paid for all hours worked.
  • 43% were denied a break on shifts of six hours or more.
  • 26% were not paid overtime when working more than 40 hours in a week.
  • 21% were charged for meals they didn’t eat.

“This isn’t one worker, one store, one state. It’s everyone,’’ said Nazly Damasio, a spokesperson for the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, a group fighting for a $15 minimum wage and other wage earner rights. “It’s unfortunate, but this is the standard.’’

Damasio pointed out the common myth that issues like this can be dismissed because fast food workers are high school or college kids looking for some pocket money. Many of the wage theft victims are mothers and immigrants and people trying to use a fast-food job to get an education and improve their lives.

“It’s disgusting and McDonalds should be ashamed of themselves.’’

Images: Deivid Rojas/Fight for 15

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