Timothy Noah: Inside Low-wage Workers’ Plan to Sue McDonald’s — and Win: "The wage theft lawsuits filed against McDonald’s last week in New York, Michigan and California threaten to breach a wall that for decades has protected fast-food corporations from the demands of minimum wage workers.
The lawsuits accuse McDonald’s restaurants of various illegal labor practices. Many fast food workers, it’s alleged, have been taken “off the clock” either while working or while waiting on site to start or complete a shift; either way, federal law requires that the workers be compensated for their time. Another allegation is that many of these low-wage workers have gotten the cost of their uniforms deducted from their paychecks, effectively reducing their pay to below the federally or state-mandated minimum wage. Yet another allegation is that many fast food workers have been denied legally-mandated overtime pay. What’s unusual here aren’t the claims of labor law violations, which are common enough, but rather, who’s being blamed. The wall that fast food workers hope to blast through with these class-action suits is the franchise system. All of the lawsuits name McDonald’s itself as a defendant, even though most of the targeted restaurants are owned not by McDonald’s but by McDonald’s franchisees.