McDonald's Systematically Steals Worker Wages, Lawsuits Claim

In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, photo, a McDonald's Big Mac sandwich is photographed at a McDonald's restaurant in Robinson T
In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, photo, a McDonald's Big Mac sandwich is photographed at a McDonald's restaurant in Robinson Township, Pa. McDonald's saw a key sales figure drop in the U.S. again in February 2014, as the world's biggest hamburger chain struggles to beat back competition and adapt to changing eating habits. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Workers in California, Michigan and New York this week filed six new lawsuits against McDonald's claiming they were systematically shorted on pay by the fast-food giant and its franchisees, lawyers involved in the cases said Thursday.

The proposed lawsuits filed in state and federal courts name 27 plaintiffs but could potentially involve tens of thousands of current and past McDonald's employees. The complaints allege that McDonald's and certain franchisees violated minimum wage and overtime regulations, forced employees to work off the clock and took illegal deductions for costs related to uniforms.

"They were requiring employees to perform work that was simply never paid," said Joe Sellers, an attorney representing workers in California. "Our clients are among the most economically vulnerable in our society, and they work for a company that generated more than $28 billion in revenue last year and earned more than $5 billion in profits."

"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," Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, a McDonald's spokesperson, said in a statement. "We are currently reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees are committed to undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations and will take any necessary actions as they apply to our respective organizations."

The allegations made in the lawsuits are fairly common in the fast-food world, but the wide breadth of the litigation will bring more attention to McDonald's pay practices at a time when labor groups and lawmakers are pressuring the company to raise wages. A lawyer who filed one of the cases said some of the plaintiffs were referred by the Service Employees International Union and its allies, which helped organize the fast-food strikes that have hit several U.S. cities.

In addition to the six new lawsuits, lawyers in California are seeking to amend a complaint already on file in that state so that more workers can join it. That suit could potentially include thousands of direct McDonald's employees in the state.

Only a small percentage of McDonald's restaurants are directly operated by the company, while most of the stores are run by franchisees large and small. All of the lawsuits name McDonald's as a defendant, while five also name franchisees. Sellers said he found "evidence" that McDonald's is "jointly responsible for illegal pay practices" in restaurants run by franchisees, although he didn't elaborate.

On a call with reporters, Jason Hughes, a plaintiff in one of the California lawsuits, said he worked at a McDonald's location in Fremont, Calif., for two years.

"When I took job at McDonald's I knew I wouldn't make a lot of money, but I thought a well-known company like McDonald's would treat me fairly and at least follow the law," Hughes said. "We brought this lawsuit because they haven't done either."

In the lawsuits in Michigan and New York, workers are claiming they lost wages associated with uniforms. In Michigan, the employees allege that uniform fees were unfairly deducted from their paychecks, thereby driving their earnings below the minimum wage, while workers in New York claim they weren't reimbursed for the time and money spent cleaning uniforms as required.