At McDonald's, Wage Theft Is Just Another Managerial Task

Former managers talk about adjusting employee hours and other ways to reduce labor costs.
Apr 1, 2014·
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

It’s closing time at McDonald’s, and in addition to mopping the floors and closing out the registers, apparently one other important task helps keep this multibillion-dollar company running cheaply and efficiently. “Oh, we’ve got to adjust labor” is what Kwanza Brooks, a former McDonald’s manager with 10 years of experience working at 12 locations, says a manager told her once as she was finishing up a shift.

Adjust labor, as in bump hours into the next pay period to avoid paying overtime. Adjust labor, as in change clock-in and clock-out times to shorten workers' hours. Adjust labor, as in reduce earnings to keep the payroll for a low-wage workforce at the bare minimum—and often below the minimum wage. Adjust labor, or, to use another term, commit wage theft.

Brooks joined Lakia Williams, another former McDonald’s manager, in calling out the pathetic labor practices of the former employer in a new video from the union-supported group Low Pay Is Not OK. The pair speaks about the same tactics that are exhaustively outlined in the class action lawsuits brought against McDonald’s in California, Michigan, and New York last month.

“It’s our understanding that both the managers and McDonald’s monitor what percentage of overall sales go to labor at any point in time,” B.J. Chrisholm, one of the attorneys representing workers in the California case, told me the day the lawsuits were announced. “It’s really the sort of obsession with keeping that labor number low that results in a lot of the practices that we’re seeing in the restaurants.”

In 2013, a year when one-day strikes by workers at McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants dotted the calendar, the Golden Arches pulled in $28.1 billion in revenue. Despite boosting that number by $1 billion over the prior year, McDonald’s has actively encouraged its minimum wage–earning employees to enroll in federal antipoverty programs to augment their dismal incomes. According to a UC Berkeley study, the low wages paid by the fast-food industry result in workers receiving $7 billion in public assistance.

If living on minimum wage is impossible, making ends meet when the small amount you do earn is treated as something conveniently elastic is hopeless. A new poll of fast-food workers suggests that 89 percent of them have been subjected to some form of wage theft.

“The worst thing that I was ever asked to do would be to really adjust a person’s time. That is the worst,” Brooks says in the video. “Because they did the work. They were there. And they deserve to get paid for what they did—it’s a job.”