The New York attorney general's office is looking into reports of wage theft violations within the state's fast food industry, department officials confirmed on Thursday. The news of their investigation broke on the same day that Fast Food Forward, a workers' group dedicated to organizing New York fast food workers, released a report alleging widespread wage theft within the industry.
“The findings in this report are deeply troubling and shed light on potentially broad labor violations by the fast food industry, which employs thousands of New Yorkers," said Damien LaVera, a spokesperson for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in a statement. He said that fast food workers who had experienced wage theft could contact the office's Labor Bureau or fill out a complaint form available on the department's website.
State officials would not say which specific companies were under investigation, but subpoenas had been sent out to several franchisees and one parent company.
The Fast Food Forward report is based on a survey of 500 New York City-based fast food workers which was conducted by the progressive polling firm Anzalon Liszt Research. As many as 84% of the surveyed workers reported that their employers had committed at least one form of wage theft in the past year. Forms of wage theft include unpaid overtime and the withholding of legally required meal breaks.
"I work almost 80 hours a week usually, but KFC doesn't pay me overtime," said KFC employee Wilton Major in an interview with the authors of the report. "It's a lot of hard work, but it's what I have to do to make ends meet. I make $8.45 an hour, so this adds up to $170 in overtime pay that I don't get." Major has reportedly worked for three separate KFCs in Brooklyn and Queens for 22 years.
Other surveys of low-wage industries also report widespread wage theft. In 2008, the National Employment Law Center conducted a survey of 4,387 low-wage workers across the country in which 68% of respondents said they had experienced some form of wage theft over the past week. Relative to the amount of wage theft reported, very few employers in low-wage industries experience serious consequences for such violations.
New York City is where the wave of fast food strikes currently sweeping the nation began. Workers in that city—as well as Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee—are currently demanding union recognition and a base wage of $15 per hour.