Week of escalating worker unrest culminates in an answer to the question: what does it take to get arrested for wage theft?
Three days of escalating worker unrest — including informational pickets, in-store demonstrations, and even a teach-in via drive-thru — at Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Arby's, Starbucks, and other low-wage employers across the city culminated this evening outside the 3rd & Pike McDonald's when 8 fast food workers and community members linked arms and engaged in peaceful civil disobedience over the issues of low pay & criminal wage theft.
In the words of Fernando Cruz, a fast food worker and leader in the low-wage workers movement, whose op-ed appeared in the Seattle Times this morning:
"I have children of my own, and I would not earn enough to take care of them if I worked only eight hours a day at the restaurant. When I needed to buy a car a few years go, I had to take on another job in construction. Between the two I worked 16 hours per day, five days per week for two years.You can’t get that time back. But you should at least get paid for it."
Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay time-and-half for hours over 40 in a week; requires employees to work without pay before or after their shifts, or during breaks; takes illegal deductions from paychecks, for example for uniforms or register shortages; or otherwise fails to lawfully pay workers for all their hours worked.
Wage theft hits low-wage workers hard: a formal multi-city study by the National Employment Law Project found that about 68% of low-wage workers experience some form of wage theft, and that those who do experience wage theft lose approximately 15% of their income to the crime. Extrapolating from that data suggests that the 4,300 fast food workers in the City of Seattle lose as much as $100,000 a week to the crime of wage theft — more than $5 million a year that goes missing from the paychecks of poverty wage fast food workers in the City of Seattle alone.
Wage theft is a crime: Good Jobs Seattle has received hundreds of reports detailing frequent violations of wage theft law at multiple fast food chains. Several criminal complaints have already been filed with the Seattle Police Department, and we expect that more will be filed in the days ahead.
Sparked by the May 30th fast food strike, Good Jobs Seattle is a growing movement which seeks to build a sustainable future for Seattle's economy from the bottom up — by turning poverty-wage jobs in fast food and other industries into good jobs that offer opportunities for a better future and pay enough for workers to afford basic necessities like food, clothing and rent. Good Jobs Seattle is supported by organizations including Washington Community Action Network, Working Washington, OneAmerica, and hundreds of workers and grassroots supporters.