McDonald's workers in three U.S. states filed lawsuits this week against the fast-food chain, alleging it is stealing wages by forcing them to work off the clock, by cheating them out of overtime and by denying them rest breaks.
The seven suits were announced on Thursday by the employees' lawyers and were filed Wednesday and Thursday in New York, California and Michigan.
In Michigan, two lawsuits were filed against McDonald's and two Detroit-area franchise owners by workers claiming they were told to come to work, only to be told to wait without pay until there were enough customers in the restaurant.
In three lawsuits brought in California, workers claim they were not paid for all hours worked, were cheated out of overtime payments, and were not allowed to take meal and rest breaks they were legally entitled to.
In New York, a suit filed in federal court by several McDonald's workers said they were not reimbursed for the time and cost of cleaning their uniforms.
"These are the workers whom McDonald's is deliberately and systematically denying pay," Joseph Sellers, co-counsel in the lawsuits filed in California and New York, said on a media call. "These suits have been filed to stop the widespread wage theft."
The lawyers are seeking class-action status in some of the suits against McDonald's, saying employees were afraid to file the suits individually for fear of reprisals.
“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,” company spokesperson Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said in a press release. “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.”
Five of the lawsuits are aimed at restaurant franchisees as well as the company. McDonald's owns 10 percent of its restaurants.
The announcement of the lawsuits comes amid broader efforts by low-income service workers and their allies to advocate for higher wages for restaurant workers.
“Fast-food strikes” — a mix of public relations, pickets and brief work stoppages — have erupted in some 60 U.S. cities, forming one of the few success stories for U.S. labor groups in 2013.
McDonald’s has been one of the primary targets of the effort by groups to raise fast-food hourly wages. The company has reported nearly two years of turbulent sales at established U.S. restaurants amid sluggish economic growth, increased competition and internal missteps that have complicated its menus and slowed service.
Al Jazeera and wire services