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OPINION - McDonald's abuses?

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  If you read this blog you know my opposition to a $15-an-hour wage for fast wood workers. Pay needs to be tied to the value that's produced by one’s labor, and someone who works at a fast food counter doesn’t generate $15-an-hour worth of value for their employer. So when I hear of fast food workers protesting or walking off the job, I think they’re being foolish. If that time were spent developing the skills needed to advance at work…

McDonalds is being sued for unfair labor practices at some of their franchises. If some of the allegations are true, McDonalds is in the wrong and should be punished.

There are many big box stores and fast food restaurants that try to match staffing levels to customer levels. If Wal Mart is almost empty at 2pm, they’d like most of their workers to take their lunch early and have everyone back on-the-clock for the 3pm afternoon rush. McDonalds does the same thing, but in an unfair way. Workers claim they’re scheduled to begin a shift at 8am and are told not to clock-in until 8:30 or 9 if the restaurant isn’t busy. In some cases these workers are sitting at an unused table or waiting in their cars until their labor is needed. That’s an abusive labor practice. A worker shouldn’t be scheduled for work, only to show up at their job and be told to wait around off-the-clock until they’re needed.

The lawsuit also says hours have vanished from workers’ timecards – that they’ve been asked to stay beyond the end of their shifts and then have the hours removed when they clock out later than expected. These situations are covered under state and federal labor laws and, if true, is a violation. Most company policies state that a worker is expected to clock out at the time their shift ends, and that extra hours must be approved by a manager. For a manager to suggest that a worker “help out” or “finish up” after they’ve punched out is an abuse. If a worker is asked to mop up, or clean tables or take out trash at the end of their shift they have every right to insist that they be allowed to clock in again while performing those tasks. For those hours to disappear from a paycheck is wrong, and likely illegal.

McDonalds has had similar problems before. Some of their restaurants used to pay their workers with pre-paid debit cards, which come loaded with fees. An employee shouldn’t have to pay a service charge to access their pay. Apparently this has stopped, but for a company that’s in the labor spotlight it was a foolish policy.

McDonalds needs to be smart about this. Public opinion can easily shift towards higher mandated wages if they sense that a big corporation is treating people unfairly. And there are many state and federal regulators who are ready to pounce on these types of abuses. While I’m opposed to $15-an-hour for fast food workers, McDonalds management is hard to love.

Chris Conley

PS - There's news since this blog was published that 10 McDonalds franchise owners in New York settled a complaint over short pay for $500,000.

Image: REUTERS McDonald's staff have gone on strike for $15 hourly wage and union representation via wsau.com