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Workers sue McDonald's for 'stealing' wages

NEW YORK--U.S. workers accused fast-food giant McDonald's Thursday of systematically stealing wages through illicit practices like forcing them to work off-the-clock and failing to pay overtime.

Seven class-action lawsuits were filed Wednesday and Thursday in California, Michigan and New York demanding that McDonald's pay back the stolen wages and end the practices that violate state and federal laws, lawyers representing the workers said.

McDonald's Corporation is named in all seven lawsuits, while franchisees were included in five of them.

The lawsuits argue that McDonald's, which took in nearly US$5.6 billion in profits last year, regularly fails to compensate its already low-paid workers for all the hours they work.

It allegedly forced employees to work off-the-clock, failed to pay them overtime, shaved hours off time cards, and deprived employees of timely meal and rest breaks, among other practices.

“We've uncovered several unlawful schemes, but they all share a common purpose — to drive labor costs down by stealing wages from McDonald's workers,” Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon, who filed the California suits, said in a statement.

“These suits have been filed to stop this widespread employee pay theft,” Joseph Sellers, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, co-counsel in the lawsuits filed in California and New York, said in a conference call.

Fast-food workers, some of the worst-paid in the U.S. economy, have been campaigning for higher wages in recent years. Last August thousands of workers went on strike at McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants in 60 cities across the nation seeking a minimum wage of US$15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation by their employer.

President Barack Obama currently is pushing to raise the US$7.25 federal minimum wage to US$10.10 an hour, but is facing fierce opposition from Republicans in Congress.

Sellers said the class-action suits in the three states cover more than 30,000 McDonald's workers.

The workers were referred to the lawyers through a consortium of locally based organizations that are addressing working conditions in the fast-food industry, he said.

He added that he did not know the amount of money sought, but it would include back pay and perhaps penalties.

More Suits Coming?

Sellers voiced hope the class-action lawsuits will “change the workplace behavior of the fast-food industry.”

“There may be more suits coming,” he said.

McDonald's spokeswoman Gidi Sa Shekhem said the company was currently reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits.

Shares in Dow member McDonald's shed 1.4 percent at US$97.37 in New York amid an overall market sell-off.

In California, workers filed three suits alleging that McDonald's and its franchise owners failed to pay them for all time worked, failed to pay proper overtime, altered pay records and deprived them of timely meal periods and rest breaks.

A fourth case makes similar claims on behalf of a statewide class of workers in McDonald's corporate-owned restaurants, who are adding their claims to a lawsuit pending against McDonald's in Los Angeles.

In Michigan, the two suits are filed against McDonald's Corp., its U.S. subsidiary and two Detroit-area franchisees.

Among the Michigan complaints is that the company regularly forces them to show up for work then forces them to wait without pay until enough customers appear. The company also forces them to buy their own uniforms, pushing their real wages below the legal minimum.

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