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I'm assuming most of you already know that workers in three different states have filed a lawsuit charging that the McDonald's corporation and their franchisees have been stealing their wages and violating minimum wage laws. Republicans like "moderate" (i.e., less extreme than Ted Cruz) Sen. Lamar Alexander have endorsed doing away with the minimum wage altogether, although they presumably still oppose direct theft of an employee's wages by their boss.

On the one hand, it's certainly true that not all or even most employers are openly stealing from workers. By the way, it takes a special kind of, er, person (I try to keep it clean here) to steal from someone earning minimum wage. The wage theft that allegedly happened at these McDonald's locations is in no way an isolated incident.

Let's look at the larger picture when it comes to the relationship between capital and low-wage labor. That relationship is defined by an extreme imbalance of power. In an unregulated environment, virtually all the power rests with capital, the owner. Low-wage workers—especially in a time of high unemployment—are seen as eminently replaceable. Unless we are talking about abnormally altruistic people (and it's fair to say that fast-food franchisees are not somehow more altruistic than the rest of us), human nature is such that in a highly competitive environment, many of us will look to take advantage wherever we can in order to succeed. Or, to quote Lord Acton: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Given these realities, the only way that low-wage workers can avoid being robbed blind is through the protections they receive from we the people, through our laws. This is why people like Sen. Alexander are so wrong when they argue against even the existence of the minimum wage (which we should raise right now to at least the level President Obama and most congressional Democrats are calling for). What the right wing doesn't understand is that the free market and capitalism simply cannot function successfully in the long run without strict laws and regulations that redress the imbalance of power between workers, especially low-wage workers, and employers. The concept of "race to the bottom" either never crosses their minds, or it simply doesn't matter given that their only concern is to serve the interests of the very employers whose power we need to restrain.

Please follow me beyond the fold for more on this subject.

Ultimately, that power has to be checked. In a well-functioning capitalist economy—one that has strong mechanisms in place to check the power of capital—workers and employers each benefit from the value created by labor. If too much power resides in the hands of employers and capital more broadly, the tension builds and builds until, ultimately, the masses seek to check that power through the only means that remain available to them. They go outside the political system. They engage in mass demonstrations, strikes and other civil actions. And if that doesn't work, then you get revolution and bloodshed. No one wants things to get bad enough for that to be seen as the only alternative.

I don't believe we are near the point of that kind of revolution yet. We do have the minimum wage, and we have other labor laws in place that—while they are not strong enough—are not so weak as to lead people to risk everything, even their lives, to bring about change through violence. But let's not kid ourselves, we need to do a lot more to bring things even close to where they should be. Furthermore, there are certainly many on the right who believe in an Ayn Rand style vision of how our economy should work. If they somehow were able to implement that vision, the kind of practices McDonald's of which is accused will be looked back upon fondly.

We cannot allow that to happen. We must make sure not only that we raise the minimum wage, enforce laws against wage theft, etc. We must also make people understand how severe is the imbalance of power between many if not most workers and their employers. We have to make them understand and feel in their gut that without government putting its thumb on the scale on behalf of workers, that imbalance would be so severe as to be unsustainable.

Without strong government measures playing a role in the equation, workers will at some point come to believe they have no choice but to simply knock the scale to the floor. That's the kind of destruction we must make sure we avoid.

Originally posted to Ian Reifowitz on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 12:49 PM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, Invisible People, In Support of Labor and Unions, and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Every low wage job i ever had did things to get (10+ / 0-)

    more work for less pay.To include forced hour long breaks but still performing limited work off the clock,forced to pay for uniforms to include shoes which had to be bought thru company store at inflated prices,required to have tools not paid for by company ect ect

      •  really low wages (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ian Reifowitz, Eric Hopp

        The majority of Americans don't want to join forces in attaining workers rights so they pay the price for that individualism and selfishness.

        Capitalism demands also looking for low wage workers with few benefits.

        •  Most everone's wages are "low" (4+ / 0-)

          Because of the lowest of the low earners.

          How is it someone somewhere decided that corporate execs should make the outrageous money they make - while everyone else makes less and less (including those in professional sector).

          Even the small business owner don't see it - a population with less and less money has less to spend at your business - including fast food franchises.

          “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” ... Voltaire

          by RUNDOWN on Sun Mar 16, 2014 at 01:57:07 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I am sorry, I know we need to think of other... (0+ / 0-)

        BUT Really All I wanted to say when I read title was
        #WELLDUH ...
        I guess essence is to get Walmart and McDonalds etc at least TALKING about it. ..and Wake some people up that they really are just ‘slaves’ again.

        Proud to be part of the 21st Century Democratic Majority Party of the 3M's.. Multiracial, Multigender and MiddleClass

        by LOrion on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 09:42:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  To me it seems obvious... (4+ / 0-)

      ...that anything the employer requires you to have must be provided by said employer without charging the employee.  Why is there not yet a law along those lines?

      •  this is how it's done in the armed forces (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ian Reifowitz, LinSea

        you're issued a uniform, boots, tools ... but that first paycheck in basic is docked for the clothing issue. Thereafter replacements are out of your pocket.

        LBJ, Van Cliburn, Ike, Wendy Davis, Lady Bird, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

        by BlackSheep1 on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 05:14:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  also know laws and do math (4+ / 0-)

      Most jobs will try to maximize work and minimize pay.  This is what employers do.  The problem is that while employers are allowed great leeway, employees are not.  Usually the only option to an employee is to quit, which is not always a possibility for all employees.

      Ideally employees would be allowed to organize and gain equal access to the political process.  Of course laws, such as those that prohibit unions form using member dues for political efforts, prevent that.

      We also have more subtle issues, like the debate of how much math to teach in high school.  While this has been framed in terms the ability of students to learn algebra, which I admit in some cases in minimal, or how much algebra is used in a job, which in fact is quite a bit, the actual reason to take a year of math in every year of high school is the ability to have conservations math.  This is about the household budget, the pay check, and what is reasonable.

      For instance, I once worked with a women who was not making much more above minimum wage in a job that offered no advancement.  When she looked at her budget, it was clear that with childcare and travel expenses, she would make quite a bit more if she just stayed at home a took care of her kids, which she did.  Obviously conservatives want people to use faith based methods instead of rational analysis when making decisions.

    •  NOT Reply to comment exactly... (0+ / 0-)

      But WHY can’t i REC comments?? today. could REC TipJar and REC blog? I see no black box warnings on my profile.. WHAT?

      Proud to be part of the 21st Century Democratic Majority Party of the 3M's.. Multiracial, Multigender and MiddleClass

      by LOrion on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 09:40:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Washington Monthly Articles (8+ / 0-)

    Ian --

    There is an excellent article in the Washington Monthly by Josh Freedman on the way the franchisees are squeezed by the franchisors and how this "trickles down" to lower the workers' wages.  Ed Kilgore comments on this today.

    The bottom line is that because the franchisors can force the franchisees to buy from them, there are few opportunities to save on costs except labor.  Of course, this doesn't excuse franchisees from unfair labor practicis, but it illustrates the bind that they are in because of monopolistic pricing by the franchisors (which has been supported by the Courts).

  •  I've just begun reading (4+ / 0-)

    Fast Food Nation, and it goes into some early detail of how the fake food industry developed and when. Recommended reading.

    Great Questions of Western Philosophy: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

    by Mnemosyne on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:55:10 PM PDT

  •  Grovel, you peons, and be grateful that the (5+ / 0-)

    job creators have deigned to exploit you and not that homeless guy fighting the seagulls for the fallen freedom fries in the parking lot.  This is America, you stinken taker.

    Building a better America with activism, cooperation, ingenuity and snacks.

    by judyms9 on Sat Mar 15, 2014 at 06:09:46 PM PDT

  •  Better support needed (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    manyamile, MGross, ER Doc, Eric Hopp

    As a freelancer, I've been stiffed or shorted on multiple occasions without effective recourse. But all you can rationally do is to try to pick the people you work for more carefully. More laws and harsher penalties aren't going to deter the few bastards who figure, rightly, that they can get away with the small stuff.

    That said, the headline claim here isn't remotely upheld. Is there some actual support to the thought that the fast food industry overall regularly stiffs its workers as a matter of general, consistent policy (a feature, not a bug)? I didn't see that proof either here or in the links. Where is the showing that this is the rule, not the exception?

    •  It seems to me there are only (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ian Reifowitz, Eric Hopp

      Two possibilities, given the less-than-living-wage received by FF workers. One is that wage theft is a regular practice of the industry, i.e. that the hourly (and weekly/monthly) wage rates are less than the value created by the workers. The other is that the industry itself could not exist apart from getting huge subsidies from taxpayers, as e.g. Walmart does.  The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.  

  •  it would be interesting to know what ted cruz, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BYw, GayHillbilly, Ian Reifowitz

    lamar alexander, & the rest of the teapublican party thinks workers should be paid -- as long as they're advocating for eliminating the minimum wage entirely, what, in their august (cough, cough) opinion, should fast food workers, for example, be paid? $5 an hr? $3? $.50? -- nothing?

    ah, for the good 'ol days of chattel slavery . . .

    good diary (btw). tip'd & rec'd.

    The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. ~ J.K. Galbraith

    by bluezen on Sat Mar 15, 2014 at 06:31:03 PM PDT

  •  I'm middle class and I have a (8+ / 0-)

    Master's degree (an MBA, no less, from a school ranked just below Ivy League).  I worked for a corporation that had a contract with a government agency.  Easy street, right?  Well, no.  I opposed, on ethics grounds, some things my employer was doing.  After 18 years of good or excellent appraisals, somehow, in my nineteenth year, I needed to be put on a performance approval program.  This in spite of the fact that my government customer thought I did good work and my internal customers were praising me to the skies.  Reality had no bearing here.  My boss's boss came from a commercial part of the company and he had gotten his job promising to "do more with less."  Since I was part-time and resisting returning full-time (my husband and I were close to completing an international adoption), they were willing to do pretty much anything to force my hand and get me to come back full time, including lying on my performance appraisals.  I refused, and I had the luxury (and I recognize it was a tremendous luxury) to quit and work in my husband's business.  Still, these people screwed me royally (including denying me the adoption benefit that was available to employees), despite my credentials and my experience.  I can't image what they can get away with against a middle-aged fast food worker of color with a high school degree and grotesquely swollen ankles from standing for ten hours a day for 20 years.  It makes me want to throw up.

  •  An equal blow must be struck... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz

    ...something they will understand.

    Anyone here ready to fight?

    We used to be ready to fight. It cost us. You ready?

  •  In the plantation economy, there are the slaves... (6+ / 0-)

    ...the overseers, the owners, and a chain of customers who buy and use the cotton.

    Our modern economy has become as brutal as the plantation because the "owners" (Wall Street) squeeze the "overseers" (management) for ever greater profits while warning the "buyers" (consumers) not to interfere, because it might make the "cotton" more expensive.

    If Wall Street were not vacuuming wealth our of the real economy, we could all afford to pay more than 99 cents for a hamburger, give the workers a living wage, and let the managers have their bonus at the end of the year.

    Somehow we have to get this message across and drive a wedge between "management class" Republicans and "shareholder class" Republicans.

    “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing
    he was never reasoned into” - Jonathan Swift

    by jjohnjj on Sat Mar 15, 2014 at 08:31:05 PM PDT

  •  Somewhere in McD's management (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, Ian Reifowitz

    There is a franchisee training power-point that explains how to exploit employees. This group think does not happen organically.

    -7.5 -7.28, A carrot is as close as a rabbit gets to a diamond.-Don Van Vliet

    by Blueslide on Sun Mar 16, 2014 at 06:03:14 AM PDT

  •  Excuse me all to pieces... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Copp, Eric Hopp, Ian Reifowitz

    What are you smoking?:  

    Ultimately, that power has to be checked. In a well-functioning capitalist economy—one that has strong mechanisms in place to check the power of capital—workers and employers each benefit from the value created by labor.
    Sorry, but in a "well-functioning capitalist economy" the workers make as little as possible and the capitalists make as much profit as possible.  Go read Smith, Ricardo, Bentham.  Read the history of the Corn Laws fight in Britain.  Read the Taft-Hartley act.  Read the labor history of the United States.  The results of that history, to date, are that labor has lost, and I don't see the 101st Airborne dropping in to assist.

    Capital will seek the lowest wages it can get.  It's cheap to move capital (production) equipment there.  And in any so-called democracy, those with money will ultimately own the government.  So just exactly how do you think you'll ever see a minimum wage that's actually a living wage?

    They go outside the political system. They engage in mass demonstrations, strikes and other civil actions.
    And get mowed down, mostly.  Pullman strike.  Haymarket Square.  Homestead massacre.  

    They didn't call it "political economy" for no reason back in the 19th century.  Capital came to own the governments of Britain, the United States, Germany, Japan, Italy, even France.  Today, it owns most governments and terrorizes them into doing its bidding by threatening that any government action (except bailouts) will "wreck" the economy.  

    It's going to take several more generations of misery, and the only way out of it will be "to simply knock the scale to the floor."  By then, global warming will have wrecked the economy.  

  •  There's more to wage theft than minimum wage! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Hopp, Miira, Ian Reifowitz

    I jump in these threads every time I get a chance because there's a form of theft from restaurant workers that's growing every day and, trust me, if we "win" on minimum wage it's going to get worse.

    I speak from experience. I am not hysterical or motivated by some vendetta. I actually know a hell of a lot about government and labor law. It can be easily proven that the Fair Labor Standards Act is being violated every day as it applies to literally tens of thousands of workers.

    I'm talking about using employees being paid the tipped wage rate ($3.63 per hour or less) for work that should be performed by people being paid the full minimum wage. It's rampant in the industry. It's becoming a quick and easy method to reduce labor costs.

    A recent lawsuit involving Applebee's revealed a corporate-level memo that literally outlined the strategy.

    Here's how it works, you make tipped employees do jobs like mopping floors, cleaning bathrooms, cleaning the kitchen, picking up trash in the parking lot. You name it, it's being asked of a person making half or less the minimum wage. I know this for a fact, I experienced it and there are several lawsuits presently in some stage of the process throughout the country over it.

    In my state the labor law clearly states if the employee is required to do non-tip related activities they must be paid the minimum wage.

    In fact, the US Labor Department has issued guidance on the Fair Labor Standards Act minimum wage exemption for tipped employees that outlines a standard of 25% of time on the clock. If the requirement to do work that is not related to an activity that could produce a tip more than 25% of the time, that employee must be paid minimum wage for that portion of their time.

    It is nothing short of appalling that nothing is being done about this. Heartbreaking, really, to watch people earning $3.63 an hour be forced to do work that by any reasonable interpretation of the law they should be being paid the full minimum wage.

    Keep in mind that restaurants are fanatical about keeping employees' weekly hours down for health insurance reasons. So tipped employees realize that any hours they spend doing work not related to getting a tip will only earn them $3.63 (or less) and hour. So what do they do?

    They often (as did I) clock out altogether and do the "side work" for free to preserve their hours for work involving actually getting tips.

    In my example I can tell you I personally brought this up with management and the bastard laughed in my face.

  •  McDonald's Pays $15 an Hour (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz

    The Magical World Where McDonald's Pays $15
    an Hour? It's Australia - Jordan Weissmann - The Atlantic - August 5 2013

    You Don't Happen To Make It. You Make It Happen !

    by jeffrey789 on Sun Mar 16, 2014 at 09:29:07 AM PDT

  •  Folks may know this book (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz

    The McDonaldization of Society, by George Ritzer.

    The book touches on issues of organization and control that are more wide-ranging than questions of McDonald's labor economics, but it's a good read and I think has some interesting things to say about where American businesses and workplaces are going (and have been going for some time).

    Procrastination: Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.

    by Linnaeus on Sun Mar 16, 2014 at 09:57:11 AM PDT

  •  There is a Cleveland restaurant that for 8 years (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz

    did not pay overtime to any employee and consistantly lies to the Unemployment Commission about the reason people are terminated so they cannot get unemployment just so there is never a chance the restaurant's taxes go up. The Feds just came in on the overtime issue and the owners are supposed to pay back the overtime but are forced to reimburse only for the last two years. And for the topper they are trying to sell the place before the deadline to pay the overtime wages in the hope that will get them out of the required payment.

    Life is just a bowl of Cherries, that stain your hands and clothes and have pits that break your teeth.

    by OHdog on Sun Mar 16, 2014 at 03:14:52 PM PDT

  •  Workers in these industries can't count on help... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz

    From Democratic elected officials or voters, and they need to proceed as if those types of solutions aren't forthcoming. Obviously, they'll get nothing from Republicans. The only way things are going to get better for these workers is through organization and unionization. Certainly, many Democratic politicians are sympathetic to low-wage fast food workers, but we will never see the mainstream Democratic party take up a living wage for these people. Their best solution is for people to avoid having to work in these industries, period. Flippin' burgers at McDonald's is constantly used as a kind of horror scenario for kids who aren't doing well in school, which is pretty revealing in what it says about how officials think about these workers. A $10.10 minimum wage, while welcome, is still a poverty wage. Until these workers organize and start collectively throwing their weight around, we'll never see any kind of mainstream political movement towards actual living wages and benefits.

  •  McDonalds. Burger King. Jack in the Box. 7-11. (0+ / 0-)

    Walmart. Home Depot. (b)Lowe's. Every restaurant you can think of. Ditch diggers.

    The list is endless. I once heard a contractor who bragged--BRAGGED!! -- about payday at his place, he would call Immigration for a sweep of his yard, and the illegals that didn't get swept up got paid. :wtf:

    Talk about a fucking sick individual. I only wish I dared beat the fuck out of him at the time.

    And our country is being run by sociopaths like this fuck, dominated by greed and a lack of basic morality, which is supposed to be taught to them by their "faiths", but the very "faiths" that support them condone their behavior, in direct contravention to the words of their "faiths".

    Which makes them the worst sort of hypocrites, as well.

    And it's these fuckers we need to be rid of.

    The sooner, the better

  •  revolution (0+ / 0-)

    eventually, soon that is, when enough people are hungry there is going to be an armed revolution if for no other reason than lack of food and shelter. It'll start with people stealing to feed their families or them selves. The more the elites and republicons take from the masses the more likely this is to happen.

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