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Put the Wage Thieves in Prison


Catherine Rampell is speaking smartly in her angry column on the systematic wage theft that goes on in fast food and other low wage industries:

Take Ashley Cathey, 25, a six-year McDonald’s employee who participated in a national one-day strike last December. A couple of months later, she got a 25-cent raise, to $8 an hour from $7.75. But something about her next paycheck looked fishy: Her pay seemed short given her raise and new, longer hours. She usually works overnight, and in recent months her shifts have frequently stretched to 12 or 14 hours because her Memphis restaurant has been short-staffed. (Perhaps because its wages are still too low to retain enough employees.)

She asked a friend who is a manager to print out her time sheet and noticed that someone had clocked her out for breaks she never took. Other co-workers spotted hours shaved from their time sheets, too. When employees brought this to the attention of a more senior boss, they were told the wrongly subtracted hours would appear in their next paychecks. Meanwhile, the helpful manager who had printed out the time sheets was reprimanded for sharing official time records with workers and told that he’d be fired if he did it again, Cathey said. Now Cathey keeps a personal record of the hours she clocks in and out.

“I never paid attention before,” she told me in a phone interview. She suspects that someone has been doctoring her hours for years, but she doesn’t want to endanger her manager friend’s job by asking for help obtaining proof. Even without proof she is convinced: “They’re hiding something, obviously,” she said.

This is not a one-off accusation. In the past few weeks, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman extracted settlements from dozens of McDonald’s and Domino’s locations around the state for off-the-clock work. Last month, workers in California, Michigan and New York filed class-action lawsuits against McDonald’s alleging multiple charges of wage theft. These suits have upped the ante by implicating the McDonald’s corporation, not just individual franchisees, in bad behavior. The plaintiffs allege that McDonald’s corporate office exerts so much control over franchisees — including by monitoring their hourly labor costs through a corporate computer system — that it had to have known what was going on.”

What to do about this? Put the people making this happen within the McDonald’s infrastructure in prison:

Harsher penalties, including prison time, should be on the table more often when willful wrongdoing is proved. Thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s home can go to jail; the same should be true for thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s paycheck.

There is no reason that wage theft should not be a criminal charge equal to robbery. It is the definition of robbery. It also reminds me of how the white cotton merchants stole from black sharecroppers by simply lying to them about how much cotton they grew. It’s basically the same thing and given the McDonald’s work force at the executive and employee level, the racial dynamics aren’t too different either.

stepped pyramids in comments: “Concealing timesheets from employees should be considered tantamount to an admission of wage-stealing, and there should be automatic penalties for it, along the lines of having to pay wages for the affected period at 40 hours a week, time-and-a-half.”


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  • Judge Jurden

    Have a heart, they will not fare well in prison.

    • DrDick

      I should certainly hope not.

    • They just need to meet a George Clooney, like Albert Brooks did in Out of Sight.

      • Denverite

        Love love LOVE that movie. Maybe the best caper movie of the past several decades.

        • Yeah, it’s pretty much my favorite thing ever.

          • Denverite

            Is it OK if I start referring to you as White Boy Erik?

            • witless chum

              Only after he trips and puts his own head on a pike while stealing T-bone steaks.

        • Kurzleg

          If for no other reason, I like it for Michael Keaton reprising his Ray Nicollete character from Jackie Brown in a fun throwaway scene with Dennis Farina.

      • advocatethis

        But more likely to meet a Snoop.

        • DrS

          We’re going to see Snoop tonight. Hope it’s a good show.

    • Maybe they need to learn that push, comes to shiv!

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Okay, then sit them down and force them to eat every single item on the McDonalds menu.

      Crap, that probably completely blows through the 8th amendment. And the Geneva Conventions.

      Prison it is, then!

      • Socrets

        Also blows through the colon.

    • carolannie1949

      They are all suffering from affluenza and can’t be held accountable. And if we treat them for their problem, we shall have to foot the bill.

  • DrDick

    This really is nearly universal among low wage workers, though not always this bad. Because of their vulnerability (owing to low wages), they are often in a poor position to complain for fear of losing their job.

    • Steve LaBonne

      I’m trying to remember- I believe there might be some way to improve their position. Starts with a “U”, I think. Oops, sorry- I almost said a dirty word. Shame on me.

      • Ronan

        unicorns ?

        • rea

          no–rarer than that.

          • Bruce Baugh

            Upanishads are no answer to the needs of America’s workers today!

      • Wayne LaPierre

        Uzis for everyone!

        • advocatethis

          This is why we need a “like” button here.

        • Guggenheim Swirly

          +600 rounds per minute.

      • DrDick

        I know how that goes. I am a fourth generation U man.

    • ThrottleJockey

      I don’t know to what extent its universal but my nephew complained abt this last year; he does shift work in a warehouse on a temp basis. When I learned he doesn’t get a receipt of the hours he’s worked I had him start to keep a diary noting the times he’s clocked in and out.

      • steverino

        My wife’s a full-timer at TJMaxx, and they are positively anal about enforcing the labor laws regarding time and breaks. She has to punch out on break even if she’d rather not; she spends her lunch sitting around waiting to punch back in. Someone upstairs is keeping a close eye on all that, and I approve.

        The way they fine-tune her hours when she covers for sick/call-outs and no-shows demonstrates what pressure the management is under to keep the hours and costs down. For one thing, she’s one of the last of the full-timers: subsequent hires are all part-time, with the attendant flexibility that gives the store. Not so nice for the employees, mind, but at least they don’t do that just-in-time scheduling you hear about.

        • Ellerson Table

          …subsequent hires are all part-time, with the attendant flexibility that gives the store.


          • Lee Rudolph

            Surely you mean BENGHAZZZZZZI!!!!?

    • Ralph Malf

      I can agree that this is very, very wrong, illegal and not fair. They work the hours, they get the contracted pay. Simple as that. And, yes, it’s a crime.

      However, statements like this without support really bug me.

      This really is nearly universal among low wage workers…

      • DrDick

        And people bitching about “unsupported statements” who provide no contrary evidence really annoy me.

      • L2P

        Would you be happier with “ubiquitous?” Or “routine?”

        No one who isn’t paid to think otherwise seriously doubts that low-wage employers routinely steal wages. There’s almost no other way to make a profit selling a hamburger for a buck. Quibbling over word choice? You might as well just say “I’m a paid hack for the Chamber of Commerce.”

        • ThrottleJockey

          You sell $2M of burgers you can make an honest buck. And you don’t have to steal from your employees to do it.

          • Rhino

            But you can make so much more if you steal as well.

          • So-in-so

            “We lose money on every sale, but we make it up in volume.”

        • Chamber of Commerce

          You might as well just say “I’m a paid hack for the Chamber of Commerce.”

          Hey, it’s not as if we aren’t stealing his wages too, you know.

  • What, are there no corpses with coins on their eyes, to steal?

    And sure, threaten to fire the middle-man, when he’s/she’s caught implementing your policy of stealing the workers blind.

    • RepubAnon

      If systematic fraud is occurring, perhaps a RICO suit is in order.

      I’d be interested in finding out how a record of the worker’s hours are company confidential information, which the employee is not allowed to see. This definitely sounds like intentional fraud, and theft. Plus, burglary: every day that the thieving managers entered the building with the intent to steal employee wages would sure seem to meet the definition of burglary.

      But, then, it’s only a crime if you’re poor – or steal from the rich.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Yeah, anyone who steals wages should do hard time. Preferably at a facility where they break big rocks into little rocks. With their hands.

      • Toberdog

        Steal a little and they throw you in jail
        Steal a lot and they make you King!

        • Anonymous

          Or leader of the Senate

          • Bernie Madoff’s only mistake, was stealing from his fellow rich people.

            If he’s Ponzi’d the poor, he’s still be living his life of champagne wishes, and caviar dreams!

            • delurking

              Stealing from the poor? We call that capitalism where I come from!

  • rea

    The big wage scam in fast food is making people nominally managers, and putting them on salary. Then they can be require to work 70, 80, 90 hour weeks with no overtime, doing exactly the same stuff hourly employees would do. This might be illegal under current regs, but of course, it costs you your job to complain.

    I had a number of family members who were fast food managers–not for McD, though. But they rather looked to corporate for protection against abuse by the franchise-holders (who themselves were big corporations, owning many restaurants).

    • Which is why fighting against the current franchising model needs to be part of progressives’ larger labor goals. Like outsourcing and subcontracting, it exists to exploit workers while shielding the parent company from responsibility.

      • rea

        QDI, for example, is a lot more than just a liability shelter for Burger King–they’re big enough to be an evil empire all by themselves.

        • I need to look into these issues more.

        • Guggenheim Swirly

          Jesus, nice website, QDI. Was Geocities hosting too expensive?

      • Ralph Malf

        Like outsourcing and subcontracting, it exists to exploit workers while shielding the parent company from responsibility.


        Franchising exists to take advantage of small business capital making each owner the responsible party.

        If you think that cheating the help is a top-down order from company, you’re really out of touch and don’t understand business at all…especially the franchise model.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          isn’t there usually a lot of pressure from above to keep costs, particularly labor ones, down?

          • sharculese

            This is Jenny. He has no idea what he’s talking about.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              yeah, but I sometimes enjoy watching jenny flail. you can relate, I think

              • sharculese

                I do kind of like how he recognizes wrong was done here, but can’t help but defend his corporate masters anyway.

            • Snarki, child of Loki

              Wait, the International House of Pancakes is a franchise operation, isn’t it?

              How about Waffle House?

            • N__B

              The troll man always derps twice.

          • rea

            There is not really a lot of direct pressure from corporate to keep costs down, because corporate doesn’t pay the costs-the franchisee does.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              I wonder: does the parent company set the prices charged, too? that probably varies, but I imagine that, say, Subway wants the sandwiches priced the same throughout a given area. that right there would crimp a franchisee’s ability to make money

              • rea

                does the parent company set the prices charged, too?

                Yes, and that’s a huge issue for franchisees, who complain, for example, that they can’t makea profit on McD’s dollar menu.

                • GoDeep

                  Actually corporate can’t force the franchisees to accept prices. Franchisors actually give franchisees a great deal of power. They tend to be difficult and stodgy businesses to run in fact. Its a lot more democratic than a company that only has shareholders to placate.

            • advocatethis

              Corporate does set policies on suppliers and pricing, though, which all but eliminates franchisee flexibility. If they want to make a profit they have to squeeze what’s left, even if that’s immoral and illegal.

              • GoDeep

                Franchisees can select their own suppliers and prices if they want. The trade off they make is that its more difficult to market effectively (in the case of eschewing corporate pricing) or meet brand quality (in the case of eschewing corporate suppliers). In general, corporate does a very good job offering franchisees the lowest possible prices, and so franchisees generally have little if any incentive to go outside the corporate supply network. Occasionally, though, franchisee will build their own co-op for supplies. Those co-ops tend not to do as well though.

                • Snarki, child of Loki

                  Only McD’s has the Deranged Mutant Chicken that lay “nuggets”.

                  Without which there is no Happy Meal.

                • Aimai

                  You know that’s completely false, GoDeep, don’t you? Why on earth would McDonald’s or any other franchiser permit its franchisees to buy on the open market? That would be like Jenny Craig letting its customers buy other food supplements. The money is in the sales of product to the franchisees.

                • GoDeep

                  Oh, Aimai, why do you doubt me? Have I ever led you wrong? Forcing franchisees to purchase from the franchisor is a patently illegal anti-trust violation. Instead the franchisor has to compete by offering a better value proposition than the franchisee can get elsewhere. They usually succeed at that. Partially that’s because they have enormous negotiating leverage; they also take lower margins than independent distributors.

                • Correcty Fairy

                  Oh, I see, it’s “illegal”. That’s why the heads of Quizno’s and Moe’s did the perp walk and are now in San Quentin — oh, wait, that never happened, just a bunch of franchisees went broke.

            • Ralph Malf

              There is not really a lot of direct pressure from corporate to keep costs down, because corporate doesn’t pay the costs-the franchisee does.

              rea gets the “Smart Guy” award for the day.

              Those who sit behind keyboards all day on the dole like c u n d have no clue how business works. This is not a new business model, btw.

              • Tristan

                “sit behind keyboards all day”

                You really fucking hate yourself, don’t you?

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                you still aren’t very convincing

              • sharculese

                You absolutely didn’t understand any of those words.

              • Guggenheim Swirly

                Those who sit behind keyboards all day on the dole like c u n d have no clue how business works.

                That’s the dead giveaway; it’s JenBob through and through.

        • rea

          Some franchisees are not really small business–see the link I give above. But yeah, it’s a device for raising capital, and the incentives are for corporate to push the franchisees to keep the restaurants adequately staffed, in order to protect the brand, and for the franchisees to use gimmicks and ripoffs to maintain their profits while nominally meeting staffing requirements.

        • Toberdog

          You have no idea, apparently, how franchising works in practice.

          • cpinva

            “You have no idea, apparently, how franchising works in practice.”

            I do, because I’ve audited many of them, none of which were the classic “small, momnpop business”. all were either limited liability partnerships, or S Corps. the franchise agreement is ironclad, in favor of the franchisor. McD’s and 7/11 have this down to a science; controlling everything from where the store will be located and its complete design, to how often the parking lots will be swept and the trashcans emptied. there is little room for maneuver on the franchisee’s part.

            with respect to controlling costs, that comes indirectly, through the minimum required monthly/annual franchise fee payments. McD’s may not control, directly, how much you spend on labor, but if they require X dollars, minimum, of franchise fees every month, they don’t need to, you’ll do it yourself. the accounting software, that McD’s (and pretty much all franchisor’s) mandates for all McD’s stores, provides hourly data, all transmitted to the west side of Chicago. they can tell you how many napkins were used, for any hour of the day, any day of the week, in any McD’s in the world.

            about the only way a franchisee can really drastically affect operating costs, is through manipulation of labor, and reduction of wastage to near zero. think about that, the next time you go for that late night burger run.

            • Aimai

              But GoDeep tells us this just isn’t so! Who to believe? Choices…choices…

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                I know that in the farm equipment and to a somewhat lesser extent the automobile industry dealers have some of the flexibility GoDeep talks about. but I don’t see that being possible at all in fast food- too important to not vary from the corporate template- and what cpinva writes makes quite a bit more sense to me in general

              • GoDeep

                That wasn’t a theoretical assertion of mine, Aimai, it was a factual one. I know that b/cs I helped assemble one of the very largest restaurant co-ops in the US. It serves thousands of stores nationwide. There are quite a few purchasing co-ops out there. This is Googleable.

                KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silvers, A&W, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Togo’s, Baskin-Robbins, Dairy Queen, Subway and many more fast food franchisees feed millions of Americans every day. So what do these famous US brands have in common? The answer is they are all supplied and serviced by franchisee owned co-operatives.

                Without disputing CPINVA’s assertions abt franchisee agreements, I will dispute his view of the economics. I’ve advised the industry many years. The single biggest factor in fast food profitability is employee turnover. Screw over your employees at your own risk. Franchisees who buy corporate owned stores generally increase the profits margins by 40-60%. Franchisees usually have cleaner, better run, more entrepreneurial stores. Hell, the Big Mac was invented by a franchisee! IHOP franchisees in VT use locally produced maple syrup instead of industrially produced maple flavored syrup. Walk into a Pizza Hut in certain Midwestern small towns and you’ll see stone fireplaces and subdued interiors.

      • L2P

        I wouldn’t look at franchisor laws. I’d look at corporate liability laws.

        There’s not going to be an easy way to stop franchisors from insulating themselves from liability. You have to alter basic contract and agency law, and at that point it’s super easy for a good lawyer to find loopholes. That’s how we ended up here, with “shift managers” grilling burgers but being treated like CEOs by employment law.

        But without easy corporate shields for the franchisees a lot of the abuse will probably stop. The franchisee will have to think twice if they’re not looking at losing a franchise, but they’re fancy house, retirement accounts, stock portfolio, and etc.

      • genedebien

        Franchising, in itself, is not about labor, and you could address issues like that in the OP without changing franchising law. You could solve the issue in the OP simply by requiring an employer to provide a detailed statement of hours worked to each hourly employee along with each paycheck and allow employees access to all records used to determine the amount of each check. The FLSA already requires employers to keep detailed records of hours worked for each employee, to maintain those records for two years, and to make them available to the Wage and Hour Division of the DoL. Just mandate that those same records be made available to the employee at request and without cost.

        Existing state wage and hour laws should also be of help. They usually allow the employee to be paid two or three times of any wrongly withheld amount plus legal costs.

        Thus solutions may already exist. Whether labor can (or will) use those solutions is a different question. Especially where the state or federal regulators are purposefully understaffed and underfunded. That seems to be a labor cause progressive politicians should take up and make a priority.

    • RepubAnon

      Lots of wage and hour violations happen when someone decides to call someone an “exempt” employee without checking the regulations first. But then, it’s these very regulations that are strangling America’s greatness – according to that rancher in Nevada.

      Somehow, I doubt that law enforcement would back down if a bunch of militia-types were to go to McDonalds corporate headquarters in imitation of the scene at that Nevada ranch. Perhaps if the workers wore cowboy hats…

    • Toberdog

      This is absolutely the case – and not only in fast food.

      • advocatethis

        A friend of mine had a Christmas season job at a local retailer. She worked at two shops, owned and managed by the same people, but when she worked six hours at each of them in a single day they refused to pay overtime, saying they were two separate employers.

        • Aimai

          Now that really puts me in the christmas mood! Lets all go shopping!

        • Correcty Fairy

          “You ****ed up. You trusted me.”

  • The next step is to only hire workers who are illiterate and innumerate, so this threat to profit margins can’t happen again!

    • Derelict

      Why do you think the GOP is so against public education?

      • Ralph Malf

        Why do you think the GOP is so against public federal overlord education?


        • sharculese

          Jenny, you almost had me fooled into thinking this was an non troll, and then you had to remind us all your an emotionally stunted ball of rage.

          • Jenny is certainly an advertisement for the failure of public schools in whatever red state he was spawned in.

            • Lee Rudolph

              Well, if you’re going to bring up spawning, I’d also say Jenny’s an advertisement for the failure of birth control.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, that’s why our school district is called an Independent school district. They don’t want federal government control. Why would they?

          • And here in CA school districts are called Unified in some cases, which means the Feds can’t split them apart.

            But if independent means teaching Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark, or that Jesus meant to say, “Blessed are the rich” go for it, just don’t expect the youngins to be fit for much more than working the counter at a fast-food franchise afterwards.

            • cpinva

              “But if independent means teaching Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark, or that Jesus meant to say, “Blessed are the rich” go for it, just don’t expect the youngins to be fit for much more than working the counter at a fast-food franchise afterwards.”

              that would be considered a feature, not a flaw.

              • Having dealt in the past with some relatives who were products of those Independent districts Jenny brags about, I can see your point.

          • Trollhattan

            Well now, if they concurrently don’t want federal dollars, then we can talk….

  • The idea that a worker’s own timesheet is secret proprietary information they’re not allowed to see is absolutely outrageous, and it should be illegal.

    • I was wondering if there are any laws about denying employees access to this information a la HIPAA for patient charts.

      But I’m not surprised that a boss who would stoop to fiddling with his employees’ time sheets would lie about whether they should be allowed to see that information. It’s what these fuckers do, threaten and lie.

      • Davis X. Machina

        Threaten and lie, and what is worse, wear short-sleeved dress shirts, with ties.

      • Concealing timesheets from employees should be considered tantamount to an admission of wage-stealing, and there should be automatic penalties for it, along the lines of having to pay wages for the affected period at 40 hours a week, time-and-a-half.

  • I have a question. When did this practice start to become widespread? Because I never heard of it when I lived in the US and worked minimum wage in the late 1990s. I am not saying it didn’t exist. But, of all the complaints of working at minimum wage places in Sacramento at that time wage theft was not one of them I remember.

    • DrDick

      I certainly heard people bitching about this kind of thing in the 90s.

      • DrDick

        I would add, that I think the real difference is that people have become more agitated about it as the value of the minimum wage has eroded. In the 80s and 90s, it happened fairly often, but people just accepted it. I also think it was not quite as egregious and excessive as it is now.

    • Congratulations on not mentioning Ghana, but do you think that perhaps a few years of work experience in one city might not be indicative of what was going on in the entire country?

      • Shakezula, stop asking such Marxist questions. If something never happened in Sacramento when J. Otto lived there, then it never happened in America until now.

      • Stag Party Palin

        Shake, given that J Otto is not a perfect human being (unlike you and me), why do you and some others NEVER miss a chance to take what he says and stretch it until it breaks? In this case he is quite obviously saying that his experience is not universal. He’s asking a reasonable question. So what gives?

        • He is always saying that he never heard of this or that when he was in Sacramento. If that’s the only contribution he can make to a thread, then he’s going to get this kind of feedback.

        • I rarely reply to anything he posts so I’m not sure where you get that I NEVER miss a chance to “twist everything he says.”

          But I can see why you sympathize with the dude who has chronic exaggeratoritis and a serious dose of conflationism.

          • cpinva

            “But I can see why you sympathize with the dude who has chronic exaggeratoritis and a serious dose of conflationism.”

            I believe there’s a pill for that.

            wage theft has been going on probably since the dawn of time. it’s harder in some industries than in others, especially if the employee’s clock themselves in and out. changing a time card is a lot more difficult than changing a timesheet, which is usually prepared and kept under lock and key by the management.

            when I was but a young sprout, most low-wage companies used time clocks & cards. they’ve gotten smarter (and sleazier), and shifted to timesheets. I suspect this shift coincides with the issue of wage theft becoming a bigger one.

        • Without resorting to any kind of hyperbole, I have to say that J. Otto made a perfectly reasonable post, and asked a valid question.

          The snark is totally uncalled for.

          Not well done, Shake.

          • J. Otto didn’t add anything to the thread with his self-centered drivel, Jazz Bumpa. Neither did your comment.

    • George Pullman

      Sometimes I think the claims that you try to make literally every single thread all about you are overblown.

      Then there are the times you post drivel like this.

    • Karen

      At least one reason this wasn’t stressed so much in the 90’s is that almost anyone with a pulse could get a job. In 1999 the Sonic near my office put job fliers in with each order, and gave a $20 gift card to anyone who referred someone who got hired. Good economies create a virtuous cycle that way.

      • Anonymous

        No one here seem interested in a good economy. A good economy is the surest way out of poverty. Nothing helps people out of poverty like a job.

        • NonyNony

          Everyone here is interested in having a good economy. Which is why a number of us advocate for a massive tax increase on the top 1% earners to fund a jobs program to get money pumped back into the economy.

          Because Nothing helps people out of poverty like a job.

        • Trollhattan

          And nothing keeps people in poverty better than a job from which they cannot escape and in which they are cheated out of the fruits of their very labor.

        • DrS


        • DrDick

          Only if the employer pays well above minimum wage and does not steal your wages.

    • Rhino

      Otto, a someone who worked such jobs in Canada through the eighties, I agree with you. The practice was not common, and is absolutely a development over the last couple of decades.

      And it’s pernicious as fuck. Underpay them, overwork them and then steal from them? How the hell do they sleep at night?

      • So-in-so

        In the ’80s Cumberland Farms got dinged (not hard enough) for accusing employees of unprofitable stores of theft, and brow beating them in making up the loss to avoid charges. It made the press at the time. My direct experience was the manager who spent a full third of the “interview” telling me how badly they would screw me over if (when, in her eyes) I stole from them. Obviously, she really didn’t want me taking the job..

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      As others mentioned, the late 90’s was a different time.

      But, aside from that, how do you know that you WEREN’T being ripped off? Perhaps not by enormous amounts, but by 5-10%? Did you keep an independent tally of hours worked vs. timesheets vs. paychecks?

      And “regular hours, full time, 40 hours/week” is harder to game than part-time, flex hours, no two days the same.

      • Correcty Fairy

        It absolutely happened in the 90s. When I was working for Staples I had phantom 30 minute breaks debited against my hours. Under the law in that state after a certain number of hours were were required to have a lunch break but on that occasion the manager had not allowed me to leave. Yet I was charged for it anyway. I noticed right away and got it fixed. Later I saw they were subject to a class action lawsuit in multiple states for this practice. It wasn’t a mistake–it was pervasive.

    • Guggenheim Swirly

      This shit happened to me in Tallahassee in the early 1990s, so yeah.

  • dave

    This is fully actionable under state and federal wage and hour laws. Class actions suits should happen and would be successful. Workers need to be informed of their rights and how to exercise them. These are good cases for plaintiff’s lawyers because wage and hour statutes allow attorneys fees as a matter of right to the prevailing plaintiff. This means that even a small violation (say the theft of $40) might still be worth it for an attorney to take on.

    I know of lawyers who have become millionaires and wage and hour cases alone.

    My own firm has dabbled in this arena and we made a good profit on a case where the provable damages were only $10K.

    Criminal penalties are also necessary, especially because some businesses lack insurance or are otherwise judgment-proof and effectively cannot be civilly sanctioned.

    • dave

      Also, retaliating against an employee who asserts their rights is also actionable civilly.

      This area of the civil law is perhaps the only one that is extremely employee friendly. Probably because middle class white people have experience with mistreatment by their employers in this way.

      • DrDick

        Assumes that people making minimum wage can afford lawyers.

        • Steve LaBonne

          The law, in its majestic equality, affords to rich and poor alike the right to buy justice.

        • dave

          They can in this case. The lawyers work on contingency. if they win they get their attorneys fees paid by the defendant. Plaintiff’s lawyers love these cases.

          In other context, you are of course correct.

          • Fosco

            No, that’s a mistake. It should say, “Works on contingency? No, money down!”

            Also that bar association symbol shouldn’t be there.

            • dave

              My firm represented two undocumented Brazilians who worked between 80 and 100 hours a week in a kitchen at a country club restaurant. They were deliberately mis-classified as “salaried”.

              They did not have enough money for a lawyer. We took the case and they paid no money out of pocket at any point (they didn’t have any). We got paid by the defendant after we won the case and our clients collected three times the amount of money that had been stolen from them..

              I can assure you, this arrangement is quite common and I resent your implication that it is exploitative or hucksterish in anyway.

              “In Massachusetts, under the so-called Treble Damages Law, employees who prevail in their Wage and Hour lawsuits shall receive treble damages (three times the amount of damages), attorneys’ fees and litigation costs. [For violations of M.G.L. chapter 149, sections 27, 27F, 27G, 27H, 33E, 52D, 148, 148A, 148B, 150, 150C, 152, 152A, 159C; and chapter 151, sections 1B, 19 and 20.]”


              Anyone can afford a lawyer to bring this kind of suit. All you need is a case with a realistic chance of success.

              • Anonymous

                It’s a Simpsons quote, dude.

                • dave

                  Sorry. Didn’t get that.

                • Rhino

                  Me either, I also thought it was a Dickish comment until I learned it was a quote.

                  Not every lawyer is a parasitic piece of crap, something we commenting here should understand better than most.

              • DrDick

                All you need is a case with a realistic chance of success.

                Again, it assumes that the victims of this have adequate access to the evidence (time cards, etc.), which is controlled by management.

                • dave

                  You get the time cards in discovery. If they can’t produce them, that itself proves your case for you.

                  The big hurdle is getting employees to realize that they are begin screwed in the first place, and that there’s an avenue for redress.

                • Steve LaBonne

                  My church works closely with an immigrant rights group that focuses on agricultural workers. Making them aware that they’re being treated unfairly is a big part of what they do. As you say, that’s the first step before they can be helped.

                • rea

                  And the other big hurdle is, the employee may lose his or her job for seeking a legal remedy. Which is probably illegal, too, but management has all seen 300:

                  “You want your money? You want your job? Molon labe!”

        • Rhino

          I think his comment implies this is an area where lawyers will work ‘on spec’ in many cases…

      • Srsly Dad Y

        This area of the civil law is perhaps the only one that is extremely employee friendly. Probably because middle class white people have experience with mistreatment by their employers in this way.

        Indeed, the FLSA reads like a statute from another country or an alternative America. I continue to be amazed it isn’t part of the standard Republican demonology for the burdens it imposes on job creators.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          “I continue to be amazed it isn’t part of the standard Republican demonology for the burdens it imposes on job creators.”

          Give them time! Rome wasn’t sacked in a day, you know. It took the better part of a week.

    • Criminal penalties are also necessary, especially because some businesses lack insurance or are otherwise judgment-proof and effectively cannot be civilly sanctioned.

      What about liens on property?

      • L2P

        What property?

        Look at a McD’s franchise. It’s a corporation. The corporate shareholders have not direct tie to the manager’s actions. The corporation owns (1) a long-term lease on some real property; (2) the franchise rights; (3) some small amount of personal property (most of it are considered improvements and owned by the property owner) and (4) goodwill.

        As a going concern it’s worth a lot. As a forced sale from reluctant sellers and a reluctant franchisor, it’s worth almost nothing. Unless we change corporate liability laws there’s not a lot there outside of insurance.

      • It’s probably leased.

  • somethingblue

    First they didn’t come for the torturers, and I didn’t complain because I wanted to look forward, not backward.

    Then they didn’t come for the Wall Street guys, and I didn’t complain because they were systemically important and only they could fix the problems they had created.

    Then they didn’t come for the banksters when they forged signatures and broke into houses they didn’t own and trashed them, and I didn’t complain because oopsies!

    Then they didn’t come for the environmental polluters, and I didn’t complain because thousands of dollars in fines plus an agreement not admitting guilt.

    And lo, now they’re not coming for the people who just steal from the paychecks of minimum wage workers. Who could have predicted?

    I assume eventually we’ll all get free passes. I mean, except for the blah people, of course. And the people who use (some classes of) drugs, because thinkofthechildren.

    • Rhino

      What a depressing comment, to win the thread. :(

  • Anon21

    There is no reason that wage theft should not be a criminal charge equal to robbery. It is the definition of robbery.

    More like the definition of embezzlement; robbery is a crime of violence. But I agree with the bottom line: intentionally steal your employees wages, go to jail.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Wikipedia (citing a Federal court case) says “At common law, robbery is defined as taking the property of another, with the intent to permanently deprive the person of that property, by means of force or fear.” Like the sharecroppers, the minimum-wage fast-food employees have legitimate reason to fear their bosses. So I vote for Eric’s use of the term, here.

      • Anon21

        They mean fear of getting shot or having your head bashed in. But even if they meant it in the sense you take it, the wage theft in this story is not occurring by means of fear, it’s occurring by means of deception. I suspect that’s the overwhelmingly common means of wage theft, too; direct intimidation has essentially nothing to recommend it, from the employer’s point of view, over quietly changing your employees’ timecards.

        • njorl

          So it’s fraud or embezzling when they steal, and extortion when they threaten to fire people who want to see their hours.

          • Two crimes for the price of one.

            Such deals we get in the new economy.

  • Cheating hourly wage workers of time worked is endemic at all levels of the restaurant industry.

    • Anonymous

      Show us

      • Rhino

        I spent decades in the restaurant business. It happened to me, and when I became a chef, I was twice fired for refusing to do it to my employees.

    • Joe Bob

      The worst abuses are against tipped wage employees, e.g.: people who have a base wage of something like $2.65 and have tips count towards the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

      Something that routinely goes unenforced is that tipped wage employees are supposed to be doing work that earns tips, or else they should be paid full minimum wage. They can rightfully be asked to perform tasks incidental to tipped work, but they should not spend prolonged periods on non-tipped tasks. Nonetheless, you routinely see servers spending two hours or more per shift doing what amounts to food prep and custodial work and getting paid $2.65/hour for it.

      Another frequent violation is that if tipped staff do not get enough tips to raise their average hourly wage to the federal minimum of $7.25 the employer is supposed to pay the difference. Sometimes they just don’t.

      • Yet more reasons people who think tipping should only occur when the waiter has psychically predicted their every whim and they feel like shelling out the extra cash are flaming scumbags.

        • DrS

          I know we’ve discussed this around these parts before, but the thrill that some people get by judging their waitstaff and withholding tips is totes disgusting.

        • genedebien

          Funny how restaurants in Europe get and keep quality waitstaff while still paying a real, living wage. Prices aren’t deceptively low and service levels aren’t that different.

      • DrS

        Yep. It was bad enough when the difference was between $2.125 to $4.25, but thanks to Herman Cain that lower number has been set at $2.13, regardless of where the Federal minimum wage is set.

      • Anna in PDX

        This is why I think states should not allow this. They should require minimum wage for tipped jobs with or without the tips. Because tips are tips, they are extra. oregon does this and it keeps service staff from this sort of obviously easy way for corporate to shaft them.

        • Trollhattan

          I could imagine Rih Perry declaring the negative minimum wage. “Hey y’all! Texas loves us some binness so much we’ll make it so your new employees have to pay you to work there. How y’all like us now?!?”

          • advocatethis

            Isn’t that how it works in strip joints?

  • Just as an aside, I would think that existing fraud laws (both federal and state) would suffice to imprison someone who purposefully altered time sheets to cheat employees out of pay.

    I don’t have the temperament to ever be a prosecutor, but would seriously enjoy a jury trial prosecuting managers who did this to employees.

  • Denverite

    I’m just curious why fast food restaurants haven’t figured out an equivalent to the tipped employee scam. “You make $2.12 an hour because you’re a tipped employee, now stay three hours after the last table leaves and clean the restaurant so I can send the people in the kitchen making $12/hour home.”

    • DrS

      Good luck getting your employer to top you up to minimum wage if you’re a tipped employee making that 2.13/hr as well and you didn’t make up the difference that shift.

      • The tip exemption to minimum wages needs to be eliminated nationwide. There are a number of states that don’t permit that exemption and I haven’t noticed a total collapse of the restaurant industry in California, Oregon, Nevada, etc.

        • Anna in PDX

          Yes, exactly.

  • rm

    Since it’s almost Easter, it might be appropriate to quote James 5:1-4

    Come now, you rich [people], weep aloud and lament over the miseries (the woes) that are surely coming upon you.
    2 Your abundant wealth has rotted and is ruined, and your [many] garments have become moth-eaten.
    3 Your gold and silver are completely rusted through, and their rust will be testimony against you and it will devour your flesh as if it were fire. You have heaped together treasure for the last days.
    4 [But] look! [Here are] the wages that you have withheld by fraud from the laborers who have reaped your fields, crying out [for vengeance]; and the cries of the harvesters have come to the ears of the Lord of hosts.

    • somethingblue

      I look forward to somebody holding up a big James 5:1 sign at a football game.

      • rm

        There will be TV preachers to helpfully explain that that verse only applies to agricultural wage theft.

      • DrS

        In front of the owners box, preferably.

      • +5:1

    • Anna in PDX

      Luke 13:27 also applies.

  • rm

    Why am I sure that if this ever gets criminally prosecuted, the punishment will fall on the local manager who was forced to implement the fraud on pain of being fired, and not on the executives who demand that this happen as a policy?

    • That is the way these things tend to fall unfortunately.

      • Hogan

        Blame travels downward.

    • Denverite

      Yeah, my sister had a friend in college who served 18 months for hiring undocumented immigrants to work in a warehouse. He was definitely at the very bottom of the managerial totem pole. I’d guess he was probably pulling in maybe $30k when it happened in the early 00s.

    • If the local manager profits from the behavior and/or makes no effort to report upper management to the authorities, I’m not particularly torn up by this result.

    • Rhino

      I was fired twice for refusing to do this as a chef. Perhaps they should grab a damned spine.

  • Joshua

    I’m not sure how it is in red states, but when people I know in working class jobs had situations like this, a quick call to the New Jersey DOL usually straightened it out pretty fast.

    • Ellerson Table

      It’s not “widespread” anywhere. They’re just looking to make more victims.

      You’re so correct in that one call does all to the state labor board. The laws are strict.

      All this talk about what a problem this is is all bullshit.

      • Yes, especially if you’re an undocumented alien in this country, you’ve got the law on your side.

      • It certainly never happens in this nation’s IHOPs, Pancake Houses and Gladys Knight Chicken & Waffle restaurants and those are the only places that matter.

        Nothing to see here people, back to work!

      • dave

        The laws are strict but this IS widespread and goes unpunished because employees don’t know their rights, are afraid that they will lose their job if they contact the state, and even if the odds are in their favor they many times simply cant take the risk of saying something and ultimately losing the case (and their job).

        Also, the amount of money stolen in this way is not a huge amount per worker. Would you even take a minimal risk of losing your job if your employer shorted you $1000? In this economy? When the most you could expect to get out of it is $3000 and having to return to work for the employer you just sued?

        • Correcty Fairy

          There’s only 7 federal labor inspectors for the entire State of Florida. The backlog on FLSA violations is 2 years. That’s a long time to wait. The state shut down the part of the labor board that dealt with wage theft under Jeb Bush and the state lege is busy trying to stop counties from setting up their own wage theft ordnances to get workers their money back.

      • sharculese

        Jenny, you don’t get to switch names just because you said something stupid and revealing under the first one.

      • Aimai

        Looking to make more victims? What? Are we churning them out in the victim factory and flooding the victim market with too many victims?

  • Anonymous

    In the case of fast food workers, there just isn’t enough money in that industry to sustain a living wage and a decent profit. If they paid their employees a decent living wage, the franchise owner wouldn’t make any money. Its not like they are getting filthy rich as it is, and with more people eating healthy, and more people with dietary restrictions, the future doesn’t look too bright either. K.

    • panda

      Last year, McDonalds made about 6 billion dollars in profits. Its CEO made 13 million, three times as much as he made in 2012 (not counting stock options and such). I am pretty sure there is some juice in that lemon still.

    • DrS

      In the case of fast food workers, there just isn’t enough money in that industry to sustain a living wage and a decent profit.

      Not that this is true, but why the hell should we care if a business isn’t profitable?

      You’re a really shitty free market capitalist.

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