Two Stories About Low Wages

Photo credit: Eli Christman, CC BY 2.0.

Today, we’ve got two not-great stories about low-wage work:

First, The New York Times explains how fast food franchises are incentivized to keep wages down and how fast food workers are incentivized to accept the wage they get:

Some of fast-food’s biggest names, including Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Pizza Hut and, until recently, McDonald’s, prohibited franchisees from hiring workers away from one another, preventing, for example, one Pizza Hut from hiring employees from another.

The restrictions do not appear in a contract that employees sign, or even see. They are typically included in a paragraph buried in lengthy contracts that owners of fast-food outlets sign with corporate headquarters.

Meanwhile, the lawyer who helps draft these restrictions says it’s really about giving franchises the right to “maintain” the workforce they hired and trained:

“There has never been, ever, any intention, by drafting this type of provision, to restrict employee mobility, restrict wage competition, or suppress employee pay,” Mr. Hershman said.

Of course not.

Slate also has an article about an upcoming Supreme Court decision and how it might affect low-wage workers:

On Monday, the day that kicks off the Supreme Court’s new term, the justices will hear arguments in three consolidated cases with far-reaching implications for wage-earners. The cases—Epic Systems Corp. v. LewisErnst & Young LLP v. Morris, and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc.—are all about whether employers have the right to compel workers go through onerous individual arbitration proceedings in order to bring labor law claims. If the justices answer that question in the affirmative, then the affected workers will—as a practical matter—find it nearly impossible to win back pay in cases involving wage law violations.

These types of violations—such as being asked to work off the clock—are so commonplace that I bet the majority of us have experienced them at least once. (I have, more than once.)

Employers know that, in most cases, employees will either suck it up or quit—but every once in a while they’ll form a collective-action lawsuit. (Slate explains how this is different from a class-action lawsuit in the post.)

Now, the Supreme Court has to decide whether employers have the right to remove that option from the table.

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