NEW YORK—Workers from 30 cities including New York City protested against wage theft at McDonald’s Corp. Tuesday.
At a McDonald’s restaurant near the Empire State Building, company mascot Ronald McDonald was ceremonially arrested and paraded through the crowd.
The workers complained that they not only earn a minimum wage that is almost impossible to live off of, but even those dollars are being taken away by McDonald’s. They claim that they are often asked to work before clocking in and after clocking out, and sometimes during lunch breaks. Some workers even said that hours were taken off their paychecks.
Franklin La Paz, a 25-year-old McDonald’s employee, said that he was often forced to work off the clock for up to 20 minutes after his shift ended at midnight. He was never paid for this overtime work, which continued for months.
“It may not sound like a lot but when you’re living on the edge like me, every penny counts,” said La Paz.
Since 2012, fast-food workers have been campaigning for a $15 living wage and the right to unionize without retaliation. Tuesday’s protest restated those demands but emphasized the harm of wage theft.
Wage theft includes anything from refusing to pay employees for overtime to failing to reimburse workers for laundry fees needed to wash their uniforms.
“I’ve washed my uniform multiple times a week for years, all on my own dime,” said 47-year-old McDonald’s employee Rosa Rivera in a translated statement.
The law said I should be getting an extra $7.85 to help recoup the cost of those trips to the laundromat—but that never happens. Without that, I’m actually making less than minimum wage every week.”
In a statement on its corporate website McDonald’s said it, and its independent owner-operators “are each committed to undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations, and will take any necessary actions as they apply to our respective organizations.”
To support fast-food workers, Public Advocate Letitia James is proposing legislation to create an anonymous hotline for workers to report incidents of wage theft. The legislation will also give responsible city agencies the power to investigate the reports and make public the number of complaints.
“We’ll be introducing it soon and we’ll be having hearings as well, joined with the city council,” said James.
Some progress has been made in the workers’ efforts to get paid for their lost wages. Yesterday New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that the owner of seven McDonald’s franchises in Manhattan agreed to give nearly $500,000 to 1,600 fast-food workers who complained of wage theft.
Similar lawsuits were filed in California, Michigan, and New York by McDonald’s employees in the past week.
Yi Yang is a special correspondent in New York.