By Candice Choi
Organizers of the fast-food protests for higher wages on Tuesday shifted their attention to another issue affecting workers: practices they say amount to "wage theft."
Protesters planned to rally outside McDonald's restaurants in cities including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami to call attention to the denial of overtime pay and other violations they say deprive workers of the money they're owed.
McDonald's Corp. said in a statement that its restaurants remain open "today — and every day — thanks to the teams of dedicated employees serving our customers."
The actions are part of an ongoing campaign by union organizers to build public support for higher wages. The Service Employees International Union has been providing financial and organizational backing for the push, which began in late 2012. A series of protests around the country since then calling for pay of $15 an hour has captured national media attention and served as a backdrop for President Obama's call to raise the federal minimum wage.
On Tuesday, organizers said rallies were planned for about 30 cities, but the size of the turnout wasn't clear. In New York, roughly 50 protesters streamed into a McDonald's across the street from the Empire State Building, surprising some customers. They chanted for a few minutes before being kicked out by police.
Once back outside the restaurant, members of the group took turns speaking before a large gathering of TV cameras and other media. New York City public advocate Letitia James voiced her support while standing next to a protester dressed as Ronald McDonald in handcuffs.
"It's hard enough for fast-food workers to survive in this economy," James said. She is planning to introduce legislation to establish a hotline to report "wage theft."
It was a far smaller showing than other protests in New York City over the past year and it wasn't clear how many protesters were fast-food workers, rather than campaign organizers or supporters. Still, the latest rallies reflect the push by labor groups to keep continued pressure on the issue of worker pay.
In Los Angeles, a crowd of 50 demonstrated at a McDonald's for about a half-hour. The group held a brief press conference outside before marching inside with banners and signs; protesters weren't asked to leave. In Boston, about 40 people waving signs reading "Stop Stealing Now" and chanting "Every nickel, every dime, we deserve our overtime!" turned out. After several speakers addressed the crowd, they entered the mostly empty restaurant.
A manager explained to the group that he didn't have the authority to respond to their claims.
In a statement, the National Restaurant Association called the demonstrations "orchestrated union PR events where the vast majority of participants are activists and paid demonstrators."
The demonstrations are a follow-up to lawsuits filed last week in three states on behalf of workers, who said they had their wages stolen by McDonald's and its franchisees. Workers said money was deducted from their paychecks for their uniforms and that they were sometimes made to wait around before they could clock in, according to the lawsuits.
The workers were referred to attorneys by the organizers of the fast-food protests.
McDonald's, which has more than 14,000 U.S. locations, has said it will investigate the allegations and take any necessary action.