Employees at Oakland Popeyes allege illegal child labor practices, harassment

A Popeyes restaurant sign against a cloudy sky
In their complaint, young workers at a Popeyes restaurant on International Boulevard in Oakland say they have faced sexual harassment from managers and long shifts without breaks or overtime pay. Above, one of the chain’s locations in Chicago.
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Employees at a Popeyes in Oakland picketed this week after teen workers, including one who was 13, alleged that they were pressured to work long, late hours in violation of child labor laws.

“Our employer has violated almost every law put in place to protect young workers like us,” two of the younger employees wrote in a statement.

Johmara Romero, 17, and Karla Palma Mendoza, who turned 18 Friday, filed a complaint with the California labor commissioner and California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, claiming violations at the Popeyes on International Boulevard in Oakland.


A spokesperson for the Department of Industrial Relations confirmed receipt of the complaint and said Cal/OSHA was investigating the worksite.

Johmara and Palma said they were often assigned shifts much longer than four hours and well beyond 10 p.m. on school nights — the legal limit for workers their age. The two employees, who were in high school while working at the restaurant, said they often were asked to stay until 11:30 p.m. or work for 6.5 hours on a school nights, sometimes without the required break times.

The managers who hired them never asked for the necessary work permits required for employees their age, the workers wrote in a statement that was distributed by Fight for $15, a group that represents and advocates for underpaid workers. In California, the group led the charge to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The complaint included details about a 13-year-old employee who on multiple occasions worked more than 40 hours a week, including staying until midnight on school nights. State law does not allow 13-year-olds to work on school days.

After the complaint was filed — and before employees took to the picket line Thursday and Friday — Popeyes shuttered that location, according to First for $15. Popeyes representatives did not respond to question from The Times, but other media outlets reported the company promised an investigation.

“We will not tolerate any violation of employment laws and if any of these allegations prove true, we will take action against this franchisee,” a Popeyes spokesperson told the Washington Post.


At the strike Thursday, workers rallied outside the store, holding signs that read “Popeyes, stop exploiting child labor,” and chanting, “Qué queremos? Justicia! Cuándo? Ahora!” which translates to, “What do we want? Justice! When? Now!”

“One time I worked until 11p.m. on a school night, and I was late for school the next morning, because I overslept,” Johmara wrote in a statement. “One time they called me into work at noon on a school day, even though school goes until 2:30 pm, because they were short-staffed, so I skipped school that day.”

In their complaint, the employees also described repeated harassment at work from managers, including sexual harassment; not being allowed to take breaks, which are legally required; and not being compensated for overtime.

The workers also said they were concerned about their safety after incidents of violence, including a fight between staff and a customer that was recorded on video this year.

A video that appeared to match the fight described in the complaint was posted on Twitter in February. The official Popeyes account said it was “horrified to see the events that took place” in Oakland.

“We have no tolerance for violence of any kind in our restaurants,” the statement said. “We are working with the Franchisee who owns and operates this location to ensure violence like this does not happen again.”