Hamburgled: Nine Out Of Ten Fast Food Workers Have Experienced Wage Theft

Labor unions in Europe and Brazil are asking their governments to help put a stop to McDonald’s alleged hamburgling of worker wages and government tax revenues. CREDIT: FLICKR USER SORTOFBREAKIT
Labor unions in Europe and Brazil are asking their governments to help put a stop to McDonald’s alleged hamburgling of worker wages and government tax revenues. CREDIT: FLICKR USER SORTOFBREAKIT

A new poll finds that 89 percent of fast food workers nationwide say they experience wage theft.

That means that nine out of every ten fast food workers doesn’t get the pay they earned, according Hart Research Associates’ findings. The most common violation, workers report, is off-the-clock work. About a quarter of those surveyed had worked over 40 hours in a week on some occasions, and half of that group said they didn’t get overtime pay for those hours.

The poll coincides with testimonials from two former McDonald’s managers who say these sorts of illegal labor practices were routine in their stores for years.

“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,’” said Kwanza Brooks, who managed McDonald’s locations for a decade. In a video released by the group Low Pay Is Not OK, Brooks and a six-year McDonald’s veteran named Lakia Williams describe how store runners and franchise owners used a corporate-provided computer system to manipulate worker’s timesheets by claiming employees took breaks when they didn’t or by shifting hours to avoid paying overtime. “See what you would do is at the end of the shift, as a manager,” Brooks said, “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.”


The computer system Brooks describes is central to lawsuits filed last month from McDonald’s workers. Those suits name McDonald’s corporate, rather than limiting their focus to franchisees as most wage theft lawsuits do, because the company itself is responsible for installing the computers that stores use to fudge timesheets and violate workers’ rights.

“My GM was sitting at the office desk and notified me and four other managers that there was a crew member that went over 40 hours, and she was going to take the rest of those hours and put it on the following pay period,” said Williams, who worked as a manager at three different McDonald’s stores over six years. “Knowing that McDonald’s is a multi-billion-dollar empire and they can’t pay their workers, it hurts me as now being a mother and seeing other mothers and they can’t pay their bills,” she added. “The company or corporation as a whole is greedy.”

“They did the work, they were there, and they deserved to get paid for what they did,” Brooks says in the video, calling the time adjustments “the worst thing that I was ever asked to do.”

These abusive practices are part of an epidemic of wage theft around the country and across a variety of industrial sectors. Employers steal more money from their own workers each year than the combined score from every criminal store robbery and bank heist nationwide. Warehouse workers, short-haul truck drivers, and professional cheerleaders are all fighting for restitution for wage theft, among other groups of workers.

Three of the country’s four largest cities have now adopted stringent anti-wage theft laws. But such laws can only do so much to alter the corporate behavior that’s driving the wage theft boom, as California’s example shows. Even when workers manage to win an official ruling from the state, 83 percent of the time they never see a nickel because companies just close down rather than pay what they owe. A more permanent fix may therefore depend on businesspeople realizing that squeezing workers can end up costing more than it saves.