The suits in California, Michigan and New York against McDonald's Corp. and its franchisees come amid growing attention on the country's widening wealth gap and pay practices in low-wage sectors. While the labor violations outlined in the suit aren't specific to McDonald's, lawyers said they targeted the company because it's an industry leader.
Taken together, the suits seeking class action status could affect roughly 30,000 workers, lawyers said in a conference call arranged by organizers of the recent fast-food protests. The suits seek back pay and other damages.
The suits were announced the same day President Obama was expected to call for stricter rules on overtime pay. The White House, Democratic lawmakers and labor organizers have also been pushing to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which translates to roughly $21,000 a year for full-time work. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.
McDonald's, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said in a statement that it is investigating the allegations and will take any necessary actions.
"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," the company said.
The lawsuits detail a range of violations, including the use of software that monitors the ratio of labor costs as a percentage of revenue. When that ratio climbs above a target, attorneys say workers are forced to wait around before they can clock in. In Michigan, lawyers said workers have to pay for their own uniforms, which further eats into their already low wages.
The six lawsuits and one amended lawsuit announced Thursday include both franchise-owned and company-owned restaurants. McDonald's Corp. is named in all the s! uits, however, because lawyers say the company exerts control over staffing at all its locations.
"There are a number of ways the two seem to work together," said Joseph Sellers, one of the attorneys representing workers, in reference to the relationship between the company and its franchisees.
The vast majority of the more than 14,000 McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. are owned by franchisees.
Workers named in the suits were referred to attorneys by the group behind the recent fast-food protests that have popped up around the country. The Service Employees International Union has been providing financial and organizational support to the push.
A representative for BerlinRosen, the public relations agency coordinating media efforts for both the fast-food protests and the lawsuits, said the timing of the announcement on the same day as Obama's overtime proposals was coincidental.
One of the suits was filed in New York, two were filed in Michigan and three were filed in California. An amendment to an existing lawsuit in California was expected to be filed Thursday.