Following up on a promise last month to ramp up actions against illegal labor practices in the fast food industry, activists descended upon a Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Clairemont late Thursday morning, intent on confronting management over claims made by workers at the location that they were victims of wage theft.
Representatives from the progressive think tank Center on Policy Initiatives, religious leaders from the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and a handful of food service workers gathered in the restaurant parking lot shortly before 11 a.m. They unveiled a new nationwide survey of 1088 fast food employees conducted by Hart Research that shows 89 percent of fast food industry employees claim to have been affected by wage theft, 60 percent in more ways than one. Wage theft is deemed to have occurred if an employee's time card has been altered to shave hours, if an employee is forced to work before clocking in or after clocking out, or if hours worked are shifted from one pay period to another in order to avoid paying earned overtime.
There was one notable absence at the event: the worker who was scheduled to directly confront his or her manager, fearing retaliation, backed out on the morning of the demonstration.
"It's difficult for people to stand up when they don't have the right to do so on the job," explained an organizer. "And this worker expressed fear about coming here to speak . . . that's one of the realities of life in this industry."
After a review of the issues concerning wage theft, the crowd of two dozen or so poured into the restaurant and demanded to speak with management regarding the wage theft allegations. The manager appeared surprised despite the ongoing demonstration outside, first demanded that the press, including a handful of television crews, be expelled before he would talk. The bulk of the demonstrators soon followed, leaving a handful of clergy from the Interfaith Committee to meet with the manager.
The group emerged a few minutes later with the news that no commitments to investigate the allegations or rectify problems were made, though "the manager listened very carefully" to the concerns expressed.
"I think it's important that we acknowledge that [the shift manager confronted] is under so much pressure from above," said Reverend Lee Hill after the impromptu meeting. "I looked into his eyes and I could see tears welling up, because he's unsure what to do based on his moral values and based on the pressures that are there to do his job."
Widespread labor-backed protests began last August with the rollout of the "Fight for 15" campaign, which has the lofty goal of raising base wages in the food service industry to $15 per hour nationwide.