News & Commentary

November 26, 2019

Ryan Gorman

Ryan Gorman is a student at Harvard Law School.

McDonald’s has agreed to pay $26 million to settle a class action lawsuit accusing the fast-food giant of wage theft. Employees in California originally filed suit in 2013, alleging, among other things, that the company had failed to pay overtime premiums, refused to provide employees with rest and meal periods, and failed to reimburse employees for work-related expenses, such as cleaning and ironing staff uniforms. At the center of the allegations was a company scheduling system which would attribute an employee’s hours worked to the day the employee’s shift started rather than the day the work actually took place. The suit was filed on behalf of around 38,000 California employees, and was aimed specifically at corporate-owned stores in the state. The settlement follows news last week that McDonald’s had agreed to repay tens of millions of dollars to workers in New Zealand after the company miscalculated holiday wages during a period going back at least ten years. OnLabor has reported on other recent complaints filed against the company, including a suit by Chicago-area workers alleging that the chain did not do enough to protect them from violence while at work and another lawsuit that alleges a pervasive culture of sexual harassment.

Workers at Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center rallied last night to protest working conditions at the facility. Roughly 600 Amazon workers at the Staten Island warehouse have signed a petition demanding various workplace changes, such as increased break time and company-provided Metrocards to ease the burden of commuting. Gizmodo reported yesterday on the Staten Island warehouse, highlighting its unsafe reputation. The story cited forms submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) apparently showing that the injury rate at the fulfillment center is over three times the industry average. Those OSHA statistics form the basis for a just-released report by Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change that goes into further detail about conditions at the Staten Island warehouse (members of both organizations attended the rally last night). The facility is notorious for the grueling demands it places on workers, who are expected to package online orders at breakneck speeds, lest their performance evaluations suffer. The Atlantic also published a story on the company’s workplace practices yesterday, highlighting conditions in other Amazon centers that report abnormally high injury rates, especially as the holiday season approaches.

All of this comes amid recent attempts to unionize the Staten Island facility’s workforce. Nearly a year ago, employees at the warehouse announced that they would be working with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union to unionize the fulfillment center. The process has been a bumpy one. In March, Justin Rashad Long, with the help of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that he had been fired in retaliation for speaking out against the company’s labor practices. That complaint has since been withdrawn. Amazon workers at other facilities around the country have thus far been unable to successfully unionize.

Google has fired Rebecca Rivers, a software engineer who spoke at a rally last Friday outside the company’s San Francisco offices. Google claims that Rivers violated the company’s data-security policies. Rivers and another employee, Laurence Berland, had been placed on administrative leave earlier this month. Around 200 Google employees and protestors attended Friday’s rally, demanding that the company reinstate Rivers and Berland. Protestors accused Google of retaliating against Rivers for her activism with the company. Rivers had previously helped write a petition urging the company to cease working with Customs and Border Patrol. Escalating tensions between Google and its workers come amid news that the company has hired a consulting firm known for its work helping companies avoid unionization, as Jared reported on last week.

Virginia Governor and Democrat Ralph Northam reiterated on Monday that he does not support efforts to repeal the state’s right-to-work law. Opponents of the law had hoped that repeal would be near the top of state Democrats’ agenda after the party gained full control of Virginia’s government following elections earlier this month. State Delegate and Democrat Lee Carter responded by reiterating his intention to bring a repeal bill to the floor in the next session, notwithstanding opposition from the governor.

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