Bonta: Wage Theft a Sad Reality for Fast Food Workers

By Rob Bonta

Bonta at a McDonald’s in Oakland.

OPINION | Imagine being pick-pocketed every time you show up to work. For thousands of low-wage workers right here in the Bay Area, that’s the sad reality they face each day. Their employers, mega-corporations in the fast food industry, are illegally downsizing workers’ paychecks in much the same way they supersize a meal.

A recent poll shows that nearly 90 percent of fast food workers have experienced wage theft. But now workers are starting to speak out.

McDonald’s workers in three states joined class action lawsuits to recover wages stolen from their paychecks when they were forced to work off the clock or were denied overtime pay. Here in the Bay Area, I joined scores of community members at a local McDonald’s this month to support their call for fair treatment and a living wage. The outpouring of community concern echoes growing outrage nationwide as the consequences of the fast food industry’s low-wage business model have come to light in cities across the country.

I am proud to stand with these workers in their demand to change an industry that for too long has taken advantage of low-wage workers without regard to the detrimental impact they have on the communities in which they operate.

When the $220 billion fast food industry bloats its profit margins by squeezing pennies from its workers, the damage to our communities is profound:

  • Workers like SG, a mother of four who earns minimum wage, serve customers with pride at Burger King. But at home, she struggles to put food on the table on her low wages. Her struggle is made even more difficult when her paycheck routinely comes up short of the dollars she’s actually earned.
  • Dollars stolen from workers’ pockets go to the fast food giants’ corporate headquarters, siphoned away from our local businesses and economy.
  • Taxpayers are also victimized every time wage theft occurs, because when fast food giants short their workers’ paychecks, they also underpay their share of payroll taxes.
  • Taxpayers pick up the tab again when wage theft increases pressure on our social services. Workers who can’t possibly survive on less than poverty wages must turn to food stamps or public assistance to feed, clothe, and shelter their families. A UC Berkeley study pegged the tab taxpayers pick up because of low-wage, low-benefit fast food jobs at $7 billion annually.

I’ve heard from many fast food workers who were forced to work off the clock or had their paychecks shortchanged the overtime pay they’re owed under law. Hearing from the many wage theft victims who took part in the Oakland protests, it is clear that the industry needs to step up and become a real model of opportunity in the community.

More Americans than ever are working fast-food jobs. When the industry should be providing an opportunity for low-income workers to earn a living, they’ve instead fought workers’ attempts to organize for fair wages and working conditions by cutting hours or firing workers who speak up. To restore the trust of our communities, fast food companies should immediately do all of the following:

Respect workers. Fast food workers are the engine of the industry’s profits, but their wages tell another story. The fast food industry must respect the rights of workers to organize for fair wages and working conditions.

Respect the law. Minimum wage and overtime rules are the law of the land, and corporate giants can’t operate outside the law.

Respect the communities where customers live, work, and eat. Be a model of opportunity by providing quality jobs with a living wage and competitive benefits that allow workers to provide for their families.

I encourage all of us to consider the consequences of wage theft to our working families and to our communities. We all should agree that fast food workers deserve humane and dignified treatment and a fair living wage.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta serves California’s 18th Assembly District representing Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro.

Categories: Assembly, fast food, minimum wage, Oakland, Opinion, paycheck, Rob Bonta, wage theft, workers, workers rights

32 replies

  1. Rob Bonta really sounds like he is out to improve the economic environment of workers in these low wage jobs.
    However a good part of why the wages are so low is because their is a huge surplus of lower skilled workers.

    Yet, he seems to be in favor of efforts to further increase the supply of lower skilled, low wage workers.
    At some point the laws of supply and demand overcome all of Rob Bonta's good intentions.

    Look around at the business models that employ lower wage workers. From fast food to slightly up the ladder to those employed in the construction of residential housing, there is a flood of cheap labor, often hired by sub-contractors.
    Nothing on the horizon seems about to change that equation.
    In fact it appears it may only get worse as they talk about bringing in ever more workers to compete.

    Even with good intentions, how does Rob Bonta plan to overcome that simple supply and demand factor?
    There seems to be a disconnect from the real world where if there are 10 workers for every low wage job opening, then the wages are going to remain in the basement.

    Didn't Rob Bonta take a Econ 101 course in college?
    What is Rob Bonta's position about increasing the work force supply in future years, especially in the lower skilled occupations?


  2. Is this realization something new?


  3. No, but politicians seem to bend them selves into contortions pointing out every other reason for the sad plight of fast food workers.

    If workers were more valuable, then employers wouldn't be so likely to be cheating them, for fear of losing them as workers.
    But when you have nearly a unlimited supply of cheap lower skilled workers you will find lots of bad practices because employers can afford to lose a worker and hire the next one.


  4. That doesn't mean that we have to stand for these practices. Our labor history is about an unlimited number of cheap low skilled workers who stood up against big corporations. Right on Assemblyman Bonta!


  5. Rob's right on this one. Corporations have no right to steal from their workers. Throw a few bosses in jail and this shit will clear up fast.


  6. These fast food joints don't have a chicken leg to stand on. Their workers are low paid as it is, why the tricks. Bonta should focus next on how these tax preparers steal money from low income people through fees and borrowing against their returns at 300% interest.


  7. By MW:

    When it comes to wage theft and also plenty of other criminal violations by the big boys, one of the very biggest issues, and perhaps the very biggest issue of all, is that the typical politician, and including the typical DA, will not have any interest in prosecuting and correcting the criminal violation if he is she is getting paid off. And the bribe is not always an illegal under the table bribe, but is often a “legal” bribe, and such as for instance a large election campaign contribution.

    For instance some years ago I became aware of a situation in which a major Bay area office building was drastically reducing the cost of many of its operations, and including janitorial, asbestos removal, and asbestos disposal, by using undocumented aliens, and who were often fired without pay under threat of being turned into Immigration for deportation if they at first refused to just quietly disappear.

    So I complained to various Bay area politicians about it, and including some of the Bay area's most prominent great “liberals and wonderful “humanitarians,” in other words the big windbags, phonies, demagogues, and charlatans who are always the very first to yell and scream and carry on about human rights and their supposed “extremely strong commitment” to ending human trafficking.

    However those politicians had absolutely no interest in solving the problem, since the building's primary owner was a major source of election campaign contributions, and I also had a few Bay area lawyers tell me that the typical politician would not object to the criminal violations if he or she was receiving election campaign contributions from the offending party.

    Remember that next time Jackie Speier, Barbara Lee, and Nancy O'Malley and/or any of the Bay area's other “great liberal” and “wonderful humanitarian” politicians put on their next PR show in which they pretend they strongly object to and are trying to end and eliminate human trafficking.

    In fact that none of the local politicians is actually strongly trying to eliminate human trafficking, and no matter how much they pretend that they are, is a major reason that many employers and many industries can get away with widespread and huge amounts of wage theft, since many of the employees who are working on the books know that if they complain too strongly about wage theft, then they may very well be replaced by employees, and especially in the cases of certain restaurants, janitorial companies, and construction companies, who will be hired cheaper, for cash, and off the books, and which often means undocumented aliens.


  8. Somebody please send Bonta to a simple 7th grade accounting course. Another example of low intelligence in our public officials.


  9. By MW:

    In my previous post, in other words the one of 11:41PM, I neglected to mention that by that building using undocumented aliens as untrained and unwitting dupes for asbestos “cleanups” and asbestos dumping, and including since almost certainly at least most of the undocumented aliens thought they were dealing merely with ordinary dust, plaster, and trash rather than asbestos, the building's tenants and visitors, etc, also unknowingly got huge amounts of asbestos dust in their lungs, and which will cause many of them to eventually become the victims of slow mass murder, and including from lung cancer and mesothelioma, etc.


    In fact my theory on such situations is that if the business of any Mr. X had a gross of let's say twenty million dollars per year and would normally be expected to have expenses of nineteen million dollars per year, and therefore a profit of one million dollars per year, but Mr. X found that by breaking or dancing on the edge of the law he could reduce his expenses to fourteen million dollars a year and increase his profits to six million dollars year, as long as he invested fifty thousand dollars per year on election campaign contributions, gave another fifty thousand dollars to charity, and spent a final fifty thousand on PR and treating the local reporters to dinner, etc, then the local newspapers would be full of articles “educating” and “informing” their readers in regard to how extremely wonderful and generous Mr. X was and how basically he was a town father and pillar of the community, and at least most of the local politicians would also “know” that Mr. X was one of the very “finest,” most “wonderful,” and most “honest” businessmen that metropolitan area had ever had, and that therefore the politicians would be extremely vehement that any whistleblower or ordinary citizen who said anything negative about Mr. X was “stupid.”

    But of course for any crooked businessman who wants to run such an operation, far and away the most important thing is to provide the local politicians with under the table bribes and/or large election campaign contributions, since if you do not give the local politicians money the DA will very likely send you to prison.,


  10. Bonta's the only one that seems to be calling out these mega-corporations that are screwing their workers. Thanks Rob.


  11. MW
    Thanks Bob for not knowing a damn thing about economics.


  12. So MW's on the side of multi billion dollar corporations stealing from their low paid workers. I would say you are the one who knows very little about economics.


  13. By MW:

    To clarify things, the posts of 11:41PM April 17 and 5:59PM April 18 are by me.

    However, the post of 1103PM April 18 is NOT by me but instead by someone pretending to be me, and as it appears that 12:08AM. April 19 very likely figured out.

    And concerning those employers who engage in such illegal practices as wage theft and/or hiring undocumented aliens that they often pay little or nothing, in addition to cheating employees out of the wages they have earned, they are also cheating the tax system out of at least tens of billions, and probably hundreds of billions of dollars, and also major threats to public health.

    For instance at the building I referred to earlier, virtually constant remodeling was going on, and with the majority of that remodeling going on in areas that contained huge amounts of asbestos, and also that building's janitorial contractor, and who had extremely close relationships with the building's management company and primary owner, also had janitorial contracts at tons of Bay area restaurants, at least one of the area's largest and most prestigious hotels, and at least one major hospital.

    So almost certainly a lot of the asbestos dust and debris that janitorial contractor's vacuum cleaners picked up from the large office building I earlier referred to was also spread to that hotel, those restaurants, and that hospital complex, so therefore the number of people who will eventually be the victims of slow mass murder, and including due to lung cancer and mesothelioma, is immense.

    However at least most of the Bay area's politicians do not care in even the slightest about any of that that, and including the politicians who pretend to be great liberals and wonderful humanitarians, since in reality those politicians are infinitely more concerned with such things as how much they can collect in large election campaign contributions than they are with public health and safety.


  14. Rob Bonta's telling it like it is, and at least he's trying to do something about the situation. That's more than I can say about the Republicans and the business Democrats.


  15. by MW
    Let's face it folks. Bonta has never and will probably never understand how economics works. Never have a 3rd grader do the planning for a business owner.


  16. Is this the real MW or the Fake MW? One thing we know for sure is Bonta is a lot smarter than the troll who keeps pretending to be other people.


  17. As far as I can see Bonta is one of the few that has the courage to take on and criticize the big corporations for cheating their workers. Thank you Rob for defending the low wage workers.


  18. 1:36, True, but for many low wage workers, the biggest thing keeping them from getting better wages is the excess supply of lower skilled, lesser educated workers.

    There are many who are all to ready to sign off on legislation that will bring a ever greater supply of such workers into the future competition.

    The fast food worker category falls right into that area of concern.
    If employers (The chamber of commerce) have 10 folks for every opening, what do you think happens to wages and working conditions?

    Ask a carpenter what has happened to his wages over the past 20 years? And its not about him being “cheated”, but rather its him being undercut, down lower and lower.
    Then finally not even being considered for such work as so much of it is shifted to sub-contractors who bring in their own crews.

    Too bad Bonta never addresses the plight of those Americans, who face such wage dilution and job loss.
    It appears it isn't politically correct for Bonta to address such concerns.
    He seems very selective in where and how he trys to protect lower skilled workers.
    Who he seeks to protect and who he doesn't.


  19. Bonta has always been for the low waged workers, no one can possibly dispute this.


  20. Bonta has consistently and constantly stood with all workers low wage or in the trades. In fact all building trades and the carpenters supported him and continue to support him.

    Anon 2:02 you should do some research before you spew your biased class warfare lies. Rob has always been supported by all working families because he has supported them.


  21. 11:16, Again, go out to the carpenters hall in Hayward.
    Talk to rank and file members. Try to find anyone who is finding lots of work (other than on taxpayer funded projects).

    Ask those carpenters the last time they were ever hired on a private residential construction site or project.
    Ask them who is working on those projects via sub contractors..
    Ask those rank and file members why they are never hired on such jobs.

    Ask then what has happened to their work over the past 15 to 20 years and what if anything the local Democratic Party has done to prevent it.

    Sure, Bonta will continue to get “official” support from the union leaders because he can still make sure on “government funded” projects that they get “prevailing wages” guaranteed.
    Fine, but in all other areas where carpenters once had good wages, their income had gone to Hell.

    The same effect has plagued a broad swatch of low wage, lower skilled workers, thus allowing them to be exploited because the employers have a steady supply of such workers who will work for less and keep their mouth shut even if cheated.

    I know, I know, it stares you right in the face.
    Go ahead, visit the carpenters hall in Hayward. Skip talking to the union staff and talk to the workers.
    Ask 5 or 6 of them how they have done over the past 15 years…. Even during the pre-recession days from 2000 to 2007. Even then they were suffering.

    No one speaks for them. They are not part of anyone's coalition. They have been abandoned and forgotten in local politics.


  22. Here you go, from today's NY Times

    “A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.”

    That lower 20% is faced with ever more applicants for the few lower end jobs. But their plight seems to never register or be addressed by Bonta and other East Bay legislators.
    If it were involving nurses, or lawyer, etc, you can be sure legislation would be authored and passed so as to not allow those professions to be flooded with excess labor.
    Those groups are organized, thus represented.
    Shlubs like fast food workers and construction workers are left to fend for themselves.
    That 20% or 40% more workers are encouraged to come and compete for the few jobs is overlooked in any actions by local leaders.
    Thus the low wages become lower and the number of applicants gets larger.
    Seems the only environmental issues that get almost no attention are those that involve lower skilled workers who aren't part of a politically connected union.


  23. I agree with MW that Bonta is just not educated in business to really understand economics. Somebody needs to tell Bonta that the role of the government is not to print money to get out of debt. Poor Bonta I don't think he has ever signed a check in the front.


  24. Rob Bonta is twice as smart as the anti-union troll who's been posting here. I have been to the carpenter's hall in Hayward as I have many friends who are carpenters as well as the other trades. The voted for him in overwhelming numbers because they know he cares about them and their jobs. Rob and other progressive democrats can't help it that some conservative business democrats and republicans stop many bills that would help working men and women. That's why Rob will get re-elected by a huge margin.


  25. Fine, now why are most carpenters in the hall finding it near impossible to find any work at other than government funded construction projects.
    Go out to the large housing developments and see who is working. Who is doing the dry wall, the painting, the masonry work.
    What steps has Bonta and local legislators taken to address the overall decline in the wages and benefits of construction workers over the past 20 years.
    I guess there is nothing that can be done. Not now, not in the future, as the developers will continue to hire sub-contractors who will pay slave wages.
    Funny how the powerful nurses, teachers and lawyers find the legislators more than willing to help.
    But the carpenters and many other lower skilled workers get nothing but slogans when their jobs go missing.

    I guess they don't have clout. Sure, as you indicate, they probably still will vote for Bonta, like he has any competition.

    How will his actions change anything about the plight of the underclass when all the proposed legislation only seems to bring about ever more workers for that poor chap to compete with.

    Supply and demand laws are continually ignored while slogans are thrown about.
    The future looks dim for the lower skilled and lesser educated American worker and I see little help coming from Bonta. What will change the dynamic of the excess supply of workers? What will exacerbate that situation?


  26. Bonta is a mental midget if does not understand simple economics. Bonta go to school and understand how business works.


  27. The only mental midget is the 11:03 post who doesn't understand the legislative process and how a handful of business democrats join with the republicans to block meaningful legislation that the building trades want to address the situation.


  28. 12:44 — “meaningful legislation that the building trades want to address the situation”

    What legislation is that? I didn't know there was any proposed legislation that would address the problem in residential construction and elsewhere, where sub-contractors come in with ultra low bids, then use cheap compliant labor, with no benefits, to do job that tradesmen previously did for decades.

    Is there some legislation to address that so as to maintain a middle class income, that tradesmen used to have.

    Let us know who is caring such legislation.


  29. Bonta wants the feds to print more money so that carpenters and janitors get more jobs paid by the tax payer. Quick somebody like said above give him an Economics 101 lesson.


  30. Somebody needs to give 1:00 AM an economics lesson and a sleeping pill. As wages and benefits rise so do the ability of the working families to purchase goods and services that benefit businesses, especially the small local businesses.

    At any rate the article is about giant corporations stealing money from, and cheating their low wage workers. Good for Bonta in standing up for the workers. I wish more would do the same.


  31. count on Rob to be at the press conference. Now that the low wage worker fight is big and press worthy and organized, Bonta is involved. I will believe Bonta is a great warrior for the worker when he actually leads something new.


  32. Rob Bonta's telling it like it is, and at least he's trying to do something about the situation. That's more than I can say about the Republicans and the business Democrats.


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