mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Nickel And Dimed”: The Very Real Scourge Of Wage Theft

Last week, the owner of a chain of Papa John’s was ordered to pay $800,000 in back pay to workers he’d shortchanged by rounding down to the nearest hour on their time cards and failing to pay overtime properly. “I didn’t realize if you work 10 hours per day, you are supposed to pay overtime for two hours,” the owner, Emmanuel Onuaguluchi, told the New York Post.

A couple hours of overtime there may not seem like a lot of money, but those amounts could mean everything to workers struggling to get by on minimum wage and, as the judgment shows, it all adds up over the years. This latest judgment is part of a big push by New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, who has also sued local McDonald’s and Domino’s franchises.

Cases of wage theft—or, at least, the cases officials are pursuing—have been up in California and across the country, too, according to The New York Times. Business interests told the Times that politicians like Schneider are just pursuing these cases to curry favor with unions, but the unions aren’t really behind the legal actions.

If restaurants and other companies in the service industry—where workers are paid by the hour, have hours that change from week-to-week, and are especially vulnerable to wage theft—are complaining that the wage theft cases are coming from people who, in general, want to be paid more, they’re right. The fight for higher minimum wages across the country has highlighted the problems low-wage workers face in their workplaces, and wage theft is one of the most common ways they’re denied even the measly current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Wage theft is old, but before now workers might have been too scared to complain or go to an attorney on their own. “I think one reason why it’s coming up more now is that it’s tied to a real organizing campaign where fast food workers are demanding and protesting,” says Tsedeye Gebreselassie, a senior staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, which is not directly involved in any of these cases.

By law, companies have to pay their employees minimum wage, and overtime pay should kick in once an employee works past an eight-hour shift in a day. Five years ago, in a survey funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and conducted by researchers from the National Employment Law Project, UCLA, Cornell University, and the University of Illinois, Chicago, a quarter of low-wage employees reported they hadn’t been paid the minimum wage in the prior week, and three-quarters said they were denied overtime.

As someone who has spent the past three years reporting from low-income communities across the country and grew up in working-class family in a poor part of Arkansas, I hear stories of wage theft all the time. Onuaguluchi’s view about overtime is common—I’ve known people who have worked in fast-food restaurants and routinely pulled several double shifts in a week, but as long as their hours did not total more than 80 in a two-week pay period their bosses did not pay overtime.

I’ve also heard of bosses who don’t pay correctly, and paychecks come with hours missing. Those mistakes are harder for workers to figure out than you would think because they need to keep records on exactly when they worked and how many hours it was, and compare it to what their paychecks say when they arrive a week or two later. But at the end of the day, these cases are relatively easy to prove because records of time sheets will show how many hours each employee worked and whether they were paid properly. Rounding down, as Onuaguluchi did, would be evident.

Many stories about wage theft, though, offer more insidious examples that are harder to fight. I know of people who’ve had to run errands on behalf of their workplaces before they even show up for work, and are expected to arrive every morning with said errand completed. I know people who’ve had to clock out for breaks they can’t take. Sometimes, workers are expected to have a certain amount of work done before they clock in at the official start of their shifts, or are asked to or expected to finish a task once they’re already gone, according to their time sheets. It would be harder to tackle cases like that in court because these practices might not be codified or routine, but the basic idea is that bosses at companies like this don’t rank their employees’ time as valuable.

In fairness, the direct bosses like Onuaguluchi are often squeezed themselves. While three-quarters of these kinds of stores are owned by franchisees who own multiple units and are often making quite a profit, their profits rely on running their operations as cheaply as possible. The small-business man or woman who owns one or two might struggle to pay their employees properly, although I have little sympathy for those who break the law. That’s because franchise fees are expensive: even a franchise fee considered relatively affordable, like 7/11, takes $31,000 to start up. McDonald’s requires $45,000 and that the owners have $300,000 in cash or other funds available to them.

Companies like these also require other licensing fees to be paid, and sometimes franchisees even pay rent because the parent company owns the physical location of the store.

So, people like Schneiderman have promised to go after Papa John’s, and other big companies that franchise stores as well. What Papa John’s and their ilk say is that they’re not responsible for the ways their franchisees pay people. Yet they intensely manage their brands, which often includes monitoring time sheets that franchisees send in, quality control tests that could influence hiring and firing decisions, and other fine-grained aspects of their operations. Even more directly, attorneys could argue that these companies charge their franchisees so much in fees that they know, or should know, that the only way for them to make a profit is to shortchange their employees.

In July, the National Labor Relations Board ruled McDonald’s was a joint employer in a similar case, and that pay complaints could be made against them. If suits against the parent companies succeed, it might actually start to end the practice of robbing low-income workers of the little money they have. “At the end of the day, you want to recover the unpaid wages, but you also want to correct the behavior,” Gebreselassie says. “One of the best ways to do that is to reach to the corporate parent.”

 

By: Monica Potts, The Daily Beast, February 15, 2015

February 16, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Economic Inequality, Wage Theft | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Debunking The Myth”: Doable, Efficient, And Necessary, A Higher Minimum Wage Will Not Reduce Jobs

As fast-food workers strike across the nation, progressives must separate fact from fiction in order to secure a living minimum wage.

Fast-food workers are going on strike from New York to Seattle to demand higher wages, highlighting the never-ending controversy over the consequences of raising the minimum wage. Many news stories seem to suggest that economists have decided a higher minimum wage will cause job loss. However, with more analysis, we undercover the truth: there is no clear link between a higher minimum wage and reduced employment.

John Schmitt, a Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, reported in February 2013 that multiple meta-studies (studies that use statistical techniques to analyze a large number of separate studies) found that for both older and current studies alike, there is no statistical significance in the effect of an increased minimum wage. Put plainly, if the effect is not statistically significant, then there is no proven effect— increases in the minimum wage do not cause job loss.

Accordingly, a few weeks ago, over 100 economists at organizations ranging from the Center for American Progress to Boston University signed a petition in support of increasing the minimum wage. They present current research from well-established organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows there are no negative employment effects from minimum wage increases. This includes the most comprehensive data available, based on the increasingly accurate testing that has occurred as more and more states increase minimum wage levels. Even more importantly, this recent series of studies uses cutting-edge econometric techniques to control for extraneous variables such as economic downturns and geographic effects. When economists do that, they find that minimum wage increases do not reduce employment.

Logically, this makes a lot of sense. A higher minimum wage is a win-win situation economically: Employees have more money to be consumers and are more productive, while businesses wind up reducing costs in the long run, since they won’t have to spend as much money hiring and training new workers (by analyzing data from five separate studies, economists representing the Political Economy Research Institute found that McDonald’s could easily make up for the costs of a higher minimum wage with a mere five-cent price increase on Big Macs). It’s just as Henry Ford realized—when he paid his workers more, they became part of his customer base, making his company even more profitable. Increasing the customer base and expanding customer pockets helps stimulate the entire economy, badly needed in the current recession.

So if we have no evidence linking high wages to job loss, our next question is: Are higher wages needed as a poverty reduction tool?

Currently, the 2013 federal poverty guidelines stipulate $23,550 for a family of four as poverty level. A $7.25 minimum wage currently nets the protesting fast-food workers $15,080 a year if the workers are lucky enough to work 40 hours a week. In a typical household with two parents and two children, parents who make $7.25 an hour earn far below the living wage of $13.55, according to an MIT wage calculator. The numbers become even starker when you separate out true living expenses: food, medical care, housing, transportation, and other needed expenses add up to a required $37,540 annual income before taxes, which is notably different from the poverty guidelines that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services set. Even if the two parents worked 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, they would only earn $30,160 in total, significantly below the resources they need to live. Moreover, these estimates are only for a typical nuclear family. The struggle that single-income families, large families, or families living in high-cost cities go through is exponentially higher.

The buying power of the minimum wage has steadily been waning due to the effects of inflation for the past 40 years. When prices increase, a worker’s paycheck buys less and less. To put it in perspective, we look to another brief by John Schmitt: If minimum wage had continued to match productivity growth, it would have been $21.72 per hour in 2012. If we only adjust for the cost of living, a minimum wage pegged to inflation would be $10.52.

A huge bulk of evidence makes the case that increasing the minimum wage is a doable, efficient, and necessary change for the economy. This change needs to happen now. We as Americans have a moral obligation to make sure that other Americans who are working hard to support themselves and their families are able to make a living.

 

By: Emily Chong, The National Memo, August 8, 2013

August 9, 2013 Posted by | Jobs, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not Just About Burger Flippers”: A Preview And A Parable, McDonald’s And The Fate Of The Middle Class

In recent weeks fast-food workers have staged dramatic one-day strikes in cities across the country, demanding a $15 starting wage, instead of about $8 on average at places like McDonald’s. The strikes have prompted much debate about fast food and the cost of a Big Mac. But this moment isn’t just about burger-flippers—it’s about the realization that the American middle class has been hollowed out to the point of decimation. Today, one in four jobs is low-wage, and at current pace it will be one in two jobs by 2024—which means that what fast-food companies pay people today will affect us all.

Companies like McDonald’s may protest that their margins are too thin, their workforces too transient to justify a $15 minimum wage. Yet in other countries the company pays exactly that wage and manages to make profits while charging only a few cents more for burgers. In this sense, fast-food workers are like water drops on a hot griddle: once they’re vaporized, everyone else is about to get cooked. And as these strikers are now showing, more and more low-wage workers in America, even ones that aren’t unionized, are tired of being vaporized.

A $15 minimum wage is the key building block to “middle-out economics” (a concept I’ve helped shape, along with my co-author Nick Hanauer). Middle-out economics, as opposed to trickle-down, says that the best job creator is a healthy middle class with the purchasing power to generate and sustain demand. It says – as Henry Ford figured out a long time ago – that workers aren’t costs to be cut; they are customers to be cultivated. Investing in that middle class makes more sense than expanding tax breaks for the wealthy.

A middle-out policy agenda includes a more progressive tax system, but also focuses on high-skill education and fostering more entrepreneurs. And it crosses left-right lines: after all, the rock-bottom wages of a “free enterprise” like Wal-Mart leads to more “big government” spending on food stamps and Medicaid. A $15 minimum wage would take tens of millions off the dole and turn them into more robust consumers and less dependent citizens.

The fast-food strikes have framed the issue and are a sign of a reorganization of labor itself. Because traditional unions now cover only a tiny slice of the private workforce, new forms of organized, joint action are emerging to pressure employers for a better deal, such as coalitions of domestic workers in various states, or advocacy centers for oft-abused guest workers.

Too many American think that the plight of the low-wage worker has nothing to do with them. In fact it is both a preview and a parable. The fate of the middle class rests, in part, on whether more Americans learn to see the fate of fry cooks as their own.

 

By: Eric Liu, Time Magazine, August 7, 2013

August 8, 2013 Posted by | Jobs | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The McBudget Is A McInsult”: Living On Pennies At The Golden Arches, McDonald’s Insists It Can Be Done

A few words about the McBudget.

Perhaps you’ve heard of it. As fast-food workers around the country protest for higher wages, we learn that McDonald’s offers advice to help them live on the wages they make that, while not technically bupkes, do amount to a paycheck you can pretty much have the driver cash for you on the bus ride home. In December, for example, Bloomberg profiled a Chicago man who, after 20 years with the burger giant, earns $8.25 an hour — and doesn’t get 40 hours a week. This, as McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson pulled down, according to the Wall Street Journal, a compensation package worth $13.8 million last year.

Anyway, Mickey D’s isn’t blind to the difficulties of french fry makers and drive-through order takers getting by on not-quite-bupkes. It partnered with Visa on a website that includes a sample budget showing how you can live reasonably well on next to nothing.

The impossibility of doing so has been attested to by everyone from writer Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Nickel and Dimed to noted obstetrician Cliff Huxtable, in that episode of The Cosby Show where he uses Monopoly money to teach young Theo the value of a good income. It has also been attested to by the people trying to do it. But all that notwithstanding, the McBudget insists it can be done.

It envisions monthly take-home pay of $2,060 from working two (!) jobs. Out of that, you pay $600 for rent, $150 for a car note, $100 for insurance (home and auto), $100 for cable and phone, $90 for the electric bill, $20 for health insurance, etc. You save $100 a month and have $750 to play with — if, by “play,” you mean pay for clothing, child care and water. Also, gasoline, maintenance and repair for the 1997 junkmobile you’re able to buy for $150 a month. Oh, and food. Can’t forget food.

As you might expect, the McBudget is mildly controversial. Washington Post blogger Timothy B. Lee called the figures “realistic” and praised McDonald’s for “practical” advice. This seems to be a minority opinion. ThinkProgress, the left-leaning website, called the budget “laughably inaccurate.” Stephen Colbert skewered the company, saying a $20 health insurance premium will buy you “a tourniquet, a bottle of Night Train and a bite stick.” Writing for the Wall Street Journal, columnist Al Lewis suggested that McDonald’s $13.8 million man show us how it’s done by volunteering to live on the McBudget.

The most vexing thing about that budget is its condescension. Take it from this welfare mother’s son: If there’s one thing poor people do not need, it is lessons in how to be poor. To the contrary, you will never meet anyone who can wring more value from a dollar.

We’re talking every trick of layaway and two-day-old bread, coupon clipping and off-brand buying, Goodwill shopping, Peter robbing, Paul paying and plain old going without. You ever hear of a jam sandwich? That’s when you “jam” two pieces of bread together and call it lunch. Heck, if you handed the federal budget over to a couple welfare mothers, we’d be in surplus by December.

And McDonald’s has lessons for the poor?

Look, there are many reasons people wind up in poverty. Sometimes they make bad life choices — they drop out of school without salable skills, or they become teen parents. Often, it falls on them from the sky in the form of illness, injury, addiction or financial reversal.

However they got into poverty, they all need — and deserve — the same things: a way to work their way out and to be accorded a little dignity while they do so. The former comes with paying a living wage, the latter by treating people with respect and not presuming to teach them what they could teach you. McDonald’s fails on both counts.

The McBudget is a McInsult.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, July 29, 2013

July 30, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: