Rep. Barbara Lee led several dozen community members and activists Tuesday on a march through a McDonald’s in East Oakland to protest the company’s alleged wage theft.
Three class-action lawsuits filed last week accuse the Illinois-based fast-food giant and three of its California franchisees of stealing employees’ money by forcing them to work off the clock, shaving hours off their time cards and not paying them overtime, among other things. Similar cases have been filed in New York and Michigan.
She had just led a chanting, sign-carrying crowd down 25th Avenue and into the restaurant, where employees and puzzled patrons looked on as she praised the activists.
“It takes a lot of courage to do this… You inspire me,” she said. “You deserve to live the American dream. You deserve fair wages.”
As soon as Lee finished speaking, Oakland Police officers demanded that the protesters step outside; the rally continued in the parking lot. “Fill my wages, not my fries – make our wages super-size,” they chanted, along with the labor slogan, “Si se puede.” Several carried signs that said “I’m Hatin’ It,” a play on a famed McDonald’s catchphrase.
“We’re all fed up, we’re tired of this,” said Ilda Amador, 25, of Oakland, who said she has faced similar problems while working at Jack in the Box. Rhonesha Victor, 24, of Oakland, said the same of her job at KFC, noting fast-food workers make meager wages to start with and can’t afford to let their employers take advantage of them. “These companies, they have to pay.”
Matthew Murray, a San Francisco attorney representing workers in one of the California cases, called Lee’s participation “a reflection that these are important issues, that workers are stepping up to assert their rights is a big deal, and that multinational corporations like McDonald’s have to follow the law, too.”
Murray said attorneys’ ongoing investigation “suggests that this is a long-standing problem and a widespread problem,” and the company “exerts extensive control over its franchises, including over its franchises’ labor practices.”
McDonalds employs about 1.8 million people in more than 34,000 restaurants worldwide, including more than 14,000 in the United States. More than 80 percent of McDonald’s restaurants are franchised.
“McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants,” spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said in a statement issued in response to the lawsuits. “We are currently reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits. McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators are each committed to undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations and will take any necessary actions as they apply to our respective organizations. McDonald’s restaurants remain open today—and every day—thanks to the teams of dedicated employees serving our customers.”