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Eric Justian headshot

Shocker: 89 Percent of Fast Food Workers are Victims of Wage Theft


As if it's not enough that so many minimum wage workers can't make ends meet on an honest day's work, many also find themselves performing work for free or less than they're due. A new poll conducted by Hart Research Associates shows an overwhelming majority of fast food workers, 89 percent, have experienced wage theft.

Low-wage employers' conniving ways to avoid fair pay for honest work is the general rule, not the exception. McDonald's franchise employers, for example, are facing lawsuits for these types of practices, as they exploit corporate-provided computer systems to doctor their workers hours so they can avoid paying overtime, or to make it seem like employees took breaks they worked through instead. Time worked, but not compensated.

In fact, I seem to recall experiencing it when I was a naive, eager-to-please kid. At the age of 16, I nervously jittered through my very first job interview at a major steakhouse chain. The manager monotonously gestured around the restaurant to indicate what my duties as a dishwasher might be if I were hired. He showed me where folks clocked in and clocked out and then said: "Oh...would you be taking breaks? You're supposed to get like a 15 minute break, but nobody here takes those."

"Uh...no?" I stuttered.

"Okay. Yeah, nobody takes those. Just give me your timecard instead of punching out, and I'll take care of that part. So when can you start?"

I didn't think much then of the notion that my employer would be doctoring my timecards to make it seem like I worked 15 minutes less than I did each day. I was a nervous kid. But it was pretty overt wage theft.

Restaurants are close knit quarters, and you're actively cooperating with other employees for hours and hours, day after day. Peer pressure can be pretty intense. And you also don't want to let your co-workers down when things get busy or you're somehow short-staffed. And too often, employers prey on that sense of fraternity, or sense of loyalty to the employer, to squeeze a little more unpaid time out of the worker.

So lets get back to that new poll showing that a monumental 89 percent of workers in the fast food industry have experienced wage theft. Just to be clear, wage theft is illegal.

The most common form of wage theft is off-the-clock work -- the sort of thing that happened when I had my first job. According to the poll, 43 percent of employees were denied breaks during long hours. Employers can doctor the times of the employees to make it seem like they've taken breaks when in fact they haven't. So...employees don't get a break and work instead, and then don't get paid for that time. One McDonald's manager, Kwanza Brooks, recounts, “I had a manager that actually sat with me when I was closing, and when it was time to shut down the system, the exact words were, ‘Oh, we’ve gotta adjust labor.’” She continued: “See what you would do is at the end of the shift, as a manager, you constantly have to go into the computer, and you’re going to put that break in there if the time is not balancing out. I on several occasions had employees come and work either before their shift or stay after their shift.”

A video produced by the organization Low Pay is Not Okay highlights how franchise owners and operators used corporate-provided computer systems to manipulate employees' hours. This computer system is the central focus of a lawsuit filed by McDonald's workers.

Another common form of wage theft is to not properly compensate employees for time they've worked beyond 40 hours in a week. The poll finds that, "48 percent of workers who have worked more than 40 hours in a single week (26 percent of all fast food workers) say that they do not always receive the overtime pay that they are owed."

Here is a full accounting of types of wage theft and how common they are, as found by the poll:

  • 60 percent of workers have been required to perform tasks before clocking in or after clocking out.

  • 46 percent have not been paid for all hours worked or all tasks performed.

  • 43 percent were not allowed a break every time they worked a shift of 6+ hours.

  • 40 percent have had the cost of uniform items deducted from their paychecks.

  • 38 percent have received their paychecks late or been asked to wait a day or more before cashing them.

  • 32 percent have had to pay their employer if the register was short.

  • 26 percent do not always receive overtime pay of time-and-a-half when working more than 40 hours/week

  • 21 percent have had meals that they have not eaten deducted from their paychecks.

  • 15 percent have had the cost of missing items from the restaurant deducted from their paychecks.

  • 13 percent have received all or part of their paychecks in cash.

  • 9 percent have had their paychecks bounce.

  • 9 percent have not been reimbursed for insurance while making deliveries.

  • 8 percent have not been reimbursed for gas while making deliveries.

TriplePundit covered a similar story about a $9 billion wage theft lawsuit filed against major Silicon Valley employers, such as Apple and Google. Silicon Valley companies allegedly engaged in illegal agreements to not hire employees away from each other, resulting in depressed wages for high-demand employees.

Wage theft is exceedingly common. And it's illegal. It's not enough that low-wage employees are trying to scrape by on minimum wage in exchange for honest work. But they're also getting aggressively cheated out of even that ... No money at all for hours worked as major employers find loopholes and employees are too worried about their job security to speak out.

Image credit - AdamL212 - Source

Eric Justian headshotEric Justian

Eric Justian is a professional writer living near the natural sugar sand beaches and singing sand dunes of Lake Michigan in Muskegon, Michigan. When he's not wrangling his kids or tapping at his computer, he likes to putter in his garden, catch king salmon from the Big Lake, or go pan fishing with his boys. As a successful blogger his main focus has been energy, Great Lakes issues and local food. Eric is a founding member of the West Michgian Jobs Group, a non-profit organization that evolved from a Facebook page called Yest to West Michigan Wind Power which now has over 8000 followers. West Michigan Jobs Group promotes independent businesses and sustainable industries in the West Michigan area. As the Executive Director of that organization he has advocated renewable energy as both a clean energy alternative for Michigan and a new industry with which to diversify our economy and spark Michigan innovation and jobs.

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