NEWSFLASH: Fast-Food Workers Protest Wage Theft

994037_10151996306273540_238336214_n.jpgFast-food workers nationwide have come together this week to protest wage theft at chains including McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Protesters report having been pressured to work while off the clock, purchase restaurant-related items, such as dish-washing liquid, out of their own pockets and work overtime without proper compensation. The rallies took place across the country, from Los Angeles to Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo.

Hart Research, a polling firm, released the results of a survey of fast-food workers Tuesday, revealing that 90 percent of respondents said they have experienced some type of wage theft. Broken down by chain, 84 percent said they experienced it while working at McDonald’s, 92 percent at Burger King and 82 percent at Wendy’s.

McDonald’s responded to the polling report with this statement:

McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants … McDonald’s and our 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.

However, complaints about wage theft are nothing new in the fast-food industry, and so far nothing has been done to protect employees. Workers in California, Michigan and New York filed a total of seven lawsuits last month alleging wage theft at McDonald’s. One of the lawsuits, in Michigan, reveals that there is software installed on timekeeping computers at some locations that alerts managers when labor costs exceed a set percentage of sales. Managers will then tell workers to clock out for extended break times without pay to recoup costs. Considering the software is provided to the restaurants by the McDonald’s corporation, the company is well aware of the practice.

Fast-food restaurant workers are predominantly women [PDF] between 25 and 64 years old—meaning many have families to support. Refusing to work without pay and risking the loss of a job is not an option.

These protests come on the heels of the recent ‘Low Pay is Not OK’ petition, which calls for a $15-an-hour wage for fast-food workers. To join on the movement, you can sign the petition asking for higher wages, or tweet using the Ms. hashtag #StandWithRosie.

Learn more about issues facing women in the fast-food industry by subscribing to Ms.

Photo of Rosie the Riveter as a fast-food worker from the Fall 2013 issue of Ms.




Lindsey O’Brien is currently studying journalism at Ohio University and interning at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.


  1. Oh absolutely. Many years ago I worked at a McD’s and the GM would edit the time clocks of employees so their hours were exactly X to Y. Even if they had you work later due to a rush or start working because you came in early. The guy who runs the ones in Iowa City is a bit more insidious about keeping his wages down. He won’t give 90% of his employees raises. Instead he’ll have the managers slowly cut down their hours until there’s not enough to even make the 7.75 they get an hour worth it. So they quit (no unemployment hassles) and then hires new people at the same starting wage.

    It’s really classy but that’s also part of the reason I haven’t eaten fast food much in years now. Especially when one of the better GMs clued me into the 200,000-300,000 a month just ONE of those stores rakes in a month. Complete greed.

  2. Thanks for letting us know about how the rest of us can help.

    I wonder when wealthy business interests will figure out that their sales and profits will suffer when poor people can’t afford to buy anything due to their measly incomes.

  3. I worked at wendys for a year. The gm would tell me at the end of my shift you don’t have to clock out I have already clocked you out. Usually only a few min stolen from my check but sometimes a couple of hours. She would not buy dish soap and sanitizer to save money in the budget, probably for her bonus. We would have to wash all dishes some greasy from bacon some burned on chilly or some that had contained raw meat with water. They would say it works just as well. Some of us would buy dish soap just because it was easier on us to wash dishes.

  4. Charlene Brown says:

    Here in California, minimum wage will go up to 9.00 and hour beginning July 1, 2014. Noticed as soon as that bill was passed, Mcdonald’s started raising their prices!!! We now refuse to eat there. My grandson who is autistic LOVES McDonalds fries and chicken nuggets. He has a meltdown every time we refuse to stop there. But so be it. I know the workers are not getting that extra pay and will not until July 1, 2014.

  5. “Fast-food restaurant workers are predominantly women [PDF] between 25 and 64 years old—meaning many have families to support.”

    does anyone else think this is sexist? Women, let it be known, that our money is not earned for ourselves and our family, that the income of our spouses or partners means something less than our own…Why? Because we are women. And women “have families to support.”

    If I were to make a statement that women need more money because we support children and families, wouldn’t such a generalized and sexist statement as to our roles in society, family units, and the workplace be greeted with offense?
    The problem isn’t that women support families. The problem is that all workers regardless of gender are being short-changed.

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