New York Attorney General Investigates Fast Food Wage Theft

New York State's attorney general is investigating claims of widespread wage violations by NYC's fast food restaurants.

By Seth Freed Wessler May 16, 2013

The New York State attorney general is investigating widespread practices of wage theft and other pay violations by fast food companies in the New York City. The investigation was announced as a new report released today reveals that the vast majority of New York City fast food workers say they work for below the minimum wage, don’t get paid for overtime hours or go unreimbursed for work expenses like gas for deliveries.

The investigation comes amid a wave of fast food strikes in five cities around the country. Workers in these cities are demanding raises to $15 an hour and the right to unionize.

According to the report commissioned by the group Fast Food Forward, which organized two strikes in New York since November, 84 percent of the 500 McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s and other fast food restaurant workers in the poll report wage theft of some kind. Nearly half of workers interviewed in the poll said they experienced at least three instances of wage theft. The report, which was conducted by the polling firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, found that 100 percent of fast food bike and car delivery workers were subjected to wage violations, including not being reimbursed for delivery costs.

Eric Schneiderman, New York Attorney General, issued subpoenas to several fast food franchises in New York and at least one parent company, for precisely these violations. A spokesperson for the attorney general, Damien LaVera, would not say which companies were under investigation.

In a statement LaVera said, "The findings in this report are deeply troubling and shed light on potentially broad labor violations by the fast food industry which employs thousands of New Yorkers."

"We take the allegations seriously, which is why our office is investigating fast food franchisees," LaVera added. "New Yorkers expect companies doing business in our state to follow laws set up to protect working families."

The fast food workforce in New York is overwhelmingly people of color. Organizers with the group say nearly every worker who went on strike was black or Latino. Last month, three of these workers from a Brooklyn Wendy’s told me their checks regularly bounced. Shalema Simpson, a 24-year-old mother of a three-year-old girl, said, "I’ve worked at McDonalds, Hale and Hearty, Shake Shack and they are all bad but right now this is the worst establishment. Sometimes our checks bounce."

Two other workers from the same restaurant said their checks also bounced.

A Wendy’s spokesperson told CNN that the company was unaware of bounced checks at its franchises.

Fast Food Forward has organized two worker strikes to call attention to abuses by the fast food industry and demand higher wages and union rights. Similar strikes emerged in four other cities since the initial New York walk-out late last year. Earlier this week, fast food and retail workers went on strike in Milwaukee.