Economy

Chipotle Accused Of Stealing From Its Workers

CREDIT: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Chipotle Mexican Grill is being sued by workers in Colorado and Minnesota who accuse it of violating labor laws by purposely underpaying them.

In a September 22 complaint in Colorado, the chain is accused of having “devised and implemented general policies and practices to deprive its hourly paid restaurant employees of the compensation to which they are entitled.” The practices allegedly include making employees work off the clock without pay through a number of mechanisms, one of which was using devices that automatically punched them off the clock even as they kept working. The attorneys for the different workers decided to collaborate when they realized all the workers were reporting the same problem.

Chipotle denies the charges, telling the Denver Business Journal that its policies are compliant with the law and, “The filing of a lawsuit is nothing more than allegations and is proof of absolutely nothing on its own.”

Chipotle isn’t the only fast food chain being sued over wage theft practices. Last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Papa John’s franchisees in New York for “significantly underpaying” more than 400 delivery drivers. The suit says the owners failed to pay them the minimum wage, paying as little as $5 an hour; failed to pay overtime; shaved hours off their paychecks; and required them to buy equipment for their jobs, such as bicycles and safety gear, with their own pay.

The lawsuit came out of a year-long investigation into the franchisees’ pay practices and is the first to emerge from several probes into fast food pay practices. Schneiderman is seeking more than $2 million in backpay, damages, and interest. Papa John’s didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment and the franchisees could not be reached.

The lawsuits are just the latest accusations of unlawful pay practices in fast food. For an industry that already pays poorly — the average hourly full-time worker makes less than $19,000 a year — workers aren’t even guaranteed their full check. Nearly 90 percent of fast food workers nationwide say they have experienced wage theft. Lawsuits and actions have been brought against McDonald’s, Subway, and Jimmy John’s, to name a few.

But they are not the only ones who have their pay stolen by employers. It’s estimated that employers rob their workers of more than $50 billion each year, more than triple the $14 billion taken from the victims of all robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and car thefts in 2012. The problem is getting worse, not better, as the number of wage theft cases filed in federal court increased from 5,000 in 2008 to nearly 8,000 last year.

These practices all violate the Federal Labor Standards Act, but to try and reverse the trend, some cities and states have enacted ordinances to crack down harder.