Survey: Almost 90% of fast-food workers allege wage theft

Fast-food workers and activists protest inside a McDonald's restaurant in Oakland.
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Tribune staff reporter

More than nine of 10 fast food workers in the Chicago area say they have experienced at least one form of “wage theft,” which includes having to work off the clock or being denied breaks during long shifts, according to findings from a poll released on Tuesday.

The poll was conducted on behalf of “Low Pay Is Not OK,” which is part of a union-backed group pushing for higher wages for fast food workers. It comes after employees filed lawsuits against McDonald’s alleging the chain is systematically stealing wages through practices including failure to pay overtime and forced work off the clock.

Of the 312 survey respondents in the Chicago area, 92 percent said they have experienced what the group calls “wage theft” versus 89 percent across the country feeling the same way. Sixty-four percent of those in the Chicago poll and 60 percent in the overall national poll said they were required to perform tasks before clocking in for their shifts, or after clocking out.


More than 45 percent in each of the groups said they were not paid for all of the hours they worked or all of the tasks they performed.

The findings come from an online survey of 1,088 people who said they work at fast food restaurants in the top 10 metro areas of the United States. The largest percentage of workers said they work at McDonald’s, followed by Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s and Taco Bell.

The survey was conducted by Hart Research for a group called “Low Pay Is Not OK,” which is the digital arm of the Fast Food Forward campaign funded mainly by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Fast Food Forward is part of the “Fight for $15” movement of union-backed groups that have been pushing for higher wages in the fast-food and retail industries for more than a year.

Hart Research does public opinion research for a variety of groups, including several labor unions.

The Chicago-area survey included 312 people who work in fast food restaurants, with interviews conducted Feb. 15 to March 26, the group said. The national survey interviews were conducted from Feb. 15 through March 19, the group said.


McDonald’s employees recently filed seven lawsuits against the world’s largest restaurant chain in California, Michigan and New York.

In the lawsuits, the employees also accuse McDonald’s of denying workers timely meal periods and rest breaks, and requiring employees to buy their own uniforms or pay to clean those uniforms. Five of the seven lawsuits also name some of the company’s franchisees as defendants

When the suits were announced, Oak Brook-based McDonald’s said it was reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits and that the company and its franchisees were committed to doing a comprehensive investigation of the allegations and would take any necessary actions.
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