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Big corporations like McDonald's and 7-Eleven exert a lot of control over their franchise owners when it comes to things like branding and the products they sell. When it comes to labor standards, though, it's almost like corporate management doesn't care at all, as two recent cases remind us. Fourteen 7-Eleven stores were seized and nine franchise owners and managers were arrested and charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud, identity theft, and harboring illegal immigrants. According to U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch:
... the 7-Eleven defendants allegedly forced the immigrants to work 100 hours a week and pocketed the majority of their pay, while also forcing them to live in and pay rent in boarding houses that the defendants owned. This "plantation system" allegedly went on for more than 13 years, she said.
The workers were assigned stolen identities by the defendants, but it sure sounds like the abuses directed at these workers merit some charges—you know, theft, forced labor, that kind of stuff? These 14 stores are looking like the tip of the iceberg, with 40 more being inspected, yet apparently in 13 years, 7-Eleven corporate management didn't figure out something was wrong.
Meanwhile, Natalie Gunshannon, a former McDonald's worker in Pennsylvania, is suing because the franchise she worked for refused to pay her by check or direct deposit, as she requested and the law requires, instead paying her with a debit card loaded up with fees:
She was to be paid about $7.44 per hour—her paystub didn’t list her hourly rate. Minimum wage is $7.25.
According to the complaint filed, the JP Morgan Chase payroll card lists several fees, including a $1.50 charge for ATM withdrawals, $5 for over-the-counter cash withdrawals, $1 per balance inquiry, 75 cents per online bill payment and $15 for lost/stolen card.
If she was working 40 hours a week (unlikely) at $7.44 an hour, $7.61 in fees would bring her below minimum wage—and it's not hard to see how you rack up more than $7.61 in fees given that list. If she was working 30 hours a week, one over-the-counter cash withdrawal and an online bill payment would bring her below minimum wage.
The franchise owners are the ones who directly decide to keep immigrants as forced labor or pay in fee-laden debit cards. But 7-Eleven and McDonald's are not exactly hands off in other areas of franchise ownership—for instance, 7-Eleven franchisees are required to buy 85 percent of their products from the company's recommended vendors, and carry certain key items no matter what. Funny, isn't it, how labor standards are the big thing these low-wage corporations let slide with their franchisees?