McDonald's, franchisees face worker pay suits

Employees claim state labor law violations

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CHICAGO — McDonald's Corp., the world's biggest restaurant chain, is being sued by workers claiming they're being idled without pay for minutes and hours at work when demand slackens, in violation of federal and state labor laws.

Lawsuits filed in Michigan, California and New York come as the restaurant industry faces increased scrutiny from lawmakers about employee wages. Last year, thousands of workers across the United States at chains including McDonald's, Wendy's Co. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. went on strike over demands for $15-an-hour pay and the right to form a union.

"These suits have been filed to stop this widespread wage theft" throughout the fast-food industry, Joseph Sellers, a plaintiffs lawyer in the New York and California cases, said Thursday.

Detroit-area McDonald's employees allege that, in addition to not being paid during times managers deem their locations to be overstaffed, they are required to pay for company uniforms they must wear while working, driving pay below legal minimums, according to two complaints filed today in federal court in Detroit. Sellers, of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, said some workers also aren't getting proper meal and break times.

Complaints were also filed in California state court in Alameda County and Los Angeles County and in federal court in the Eastern District of New York, the law firm said in a statement. Not all those complaints could be immediately be confirmed in court records.

Heather Oldani, a spokeswoman for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's, didn't immediately respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment on the lawsuits.

This month in Congress, Democratic Reps. George Miller of California and Joe Courtney of Connecticut sent letters to chains including McDonald's and Yum Brands Inc., owner of KFC, seeking information on their franchise agreements, worker-training materials and wage-and-hour law violations.

The Detroit-area workers are seeking class-action, or group, status on behalf of their co-workers. One defendant franchisee is said to employ 1,000 "crew members," while the other has hundreds, according to the complaints. Sellers said as many as 30,000 workers could be represented in the cases.

The workers are seeking awards of unpaid wages, additional compensatory damages and disgorged profits earned as a result of the allegedly unlawful business practices.