McDonald's ex-managers sound off to Salon: Non-existent breaks and illegal overtime

Former managers says the giant chain's employees were illegally denied their pay - and the corporation's to blame

Published April 1, 2014 12:00PM (EDT)

  (AP/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP/Gene J. Puskar)

In order to meet otherwise-impossible labor cost requirements, McDonald’s managers knowingly deny workers the pay they’re legally owed, two former managers alleged to Salon.

“My general manager notified us that someone had exceeded forty hours, and they were going to take their hours off and put it on their next paycheck” to avert overtime pay, former South Carolina McDonald’s shift manager Lakia Williams told Salon. “Which, you know, that’s illegal.” Former North Carolina closing manager Kwanza Brooks recalled an assistant manager showing her how to go into the computer system and, if labor costs were too high, mark down an employee as having taken a thirty minute break, even though no such break had actually happened. “I had done it,” Brooks told Salon, “before I really knew that it was taking – literally taking – away from them.”

Both Williams and Brooks set forth their experiences with alleged “wage theft” in video being released today by activists tied to the past year’s fast food strike wave. As Salon has reported, the one-day walkouts – backed by the Service Employees International Union - have anchored a comprehensive campaign of political, legal, media, consumer, and industrial pressure designed to compel industry giants to concede a wage hike and union organizing rights.

Today, along with the video, the campaign is releasing national survey results in which 89% of fast food workers reported experiencing wage theft. Last month, workers and attorneys announced the filing of potential class action suits over alleged McDonald’s wage theft in three states – suits which aim to establish the responsibility of the McDonald’s corporation, not just the individual franchisees who legally employ McDonald’s workers. “We know that they strictly control both staffing and scheduling at the restaurants – including the franchisee restaurants,” plaintiffs’ attorney Barbara Chisholm told reporters. In a statement last month, the McDonald’s corporation said, “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.”

But in interviews Monday evening, the ex-managers described a constant pressure, originating with the McDonald’s corporation, to keep labor costs down to levels that would be impossible to meet while maintaining both customer service and legal compliance. “They’re getting their orders from the top,” charged Williams, and the corporation’s leaders “have to know.” Williams, a manager in several stores between 2006 and 2012, told Salon that “As the years went on, the numbers got smaller,” and “we were getting written up because we were not meeting our goals or our duties as shift leaders.” (Meanwhile, said Brooks, store managers who forced costs low enough reaped bonuses.) Given those labor cost numbers, Williams charged, “If you’re realistically, on paper, making your labor…expectations and your sales goals…someone is not getting paid.”

Brooks recounted hearing a constant drumbeat: “What’s labor [cost], what’s labor, what’s labor.” She said that over time she heard increasingly frequently from employees regarding discrepancies in their paychecks, and that seeing how stores’ top management “kept trying to brush it off,” showed her “this wasn’t no accident.” Brooks, who worked at several stores over a decade, said she’d witnessed forms of wage theft including asking workers to “help” for an hour or longer before clocking in or after clocking out, as well as deducting non-existent breaks. “I wouldn’t say all of the managers,” but “most of them are doing it,” charged Brooks. She told Salon she left her job a couple years ago in part because she got tired of having to “look at your crew knowing that their check was wrong.”

“A lot of people are scared for their job security,” she said. When workers came forward with their lawsuit, she added, her reaction was, “It’s about time.”

Update (4/1): In an e-mailed statement, McDonald's said, "When McDonald’s learns of pay concerns in restaurants which we own and operate, we review the concerns and take appropriate action to resolve them.  We trust that our independent owner-operators do the same. McDonald’s and our owner-operators employ separately but in total over 750,000 workers in the United States, and we caution against drawing broad conclusions based on a small, random informal sampling."

The video released by the fast food campaign appears below.

By Josh Eidelson

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