In late 2012, fast food workers and organizers in New York orchestrated what was then the largest strike in the industry’s history, with a turnout in excess of 200 employees. Over the course of the next year, the burgeoning fast food workers’ movement attracted headlines through a series of increasingly massive labor actions, culminating in a nationwide, 100-city work stoppage.
And then, for four months, the movement went dormant. Organizers promisedmore displays of militancy in 2014, but none were forthcoming in the first quarter of the year. Those outside the movement were left waiting to see what the next move would be.
On Thursday, the strikers made their first new play of 2014. But this time, it wasn’t a strike: Instead, fast food workers and their supporters announced that they would take their struggle to the courts. Workers at McDonald’s have filed class action lawsuits in Michigan, New York and California alleging that the fast food giant systematically steals wages from its employees.
“I used to think McDonald’s grew so big because of quality and integrity,” said Jason Hughes, one of the plaintiffs on the California lawsuit, during a Thursday conference call with reporters. “Instead I learned it’s because of cutting cost corners and squeezing workers.”
According to the lawsuits, McDonald’s engaged in several different forms of wage theft, including requiring employees to perform unpaid work, denying them overtime, preventing them from taking meal breaks and forcing them to purchase their own uniforms. The plaintiffs are targeting both individual McDonald’s franchisees and the multinational corporation itself, which directly operates some of the locations identified in the lawsuits. Even in franchised locations, attorneys for the plaintiffs allege that McDonald’s Corp. is liable for wage theft.