Economy

Disgusting: Piggish Fast-Food Giant Accused of Stealing Workers' Wages

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches has been skimping on the fair pay.

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches — which promises "Freaky Fast Delivery & World Class Catering!" — boasts nearly 2,000 locations throughout the U.S. in 43 states. A favorite of college students, the Illinois-based franchise has recently been making headlines for something not so classy: systematically ripping off its employees.

Karolis Kubelskas and Emily Brunner, on behalf of themselves and fellow workers, stated in a lawsuit filed in federal court that they were made to perform off-the-clock duties for which they were not properly compensated, leading to breaches in overtime and minimum wage laws. Among the shenanigans Kubelskas and Brunner claim they faced at the sandwich chain, was for workers to be clocked out at the end of the day, even though managers knew they didn't have enough time to perform required closing duties. The managers were incentivized to shortchange employees, according to the lawsuit, by getting bonuses for hitting labor cost targets.

Some people, of course, like the way the fast-food giant does business. As Dave Jamieson notes in the Huffington Post, Jimmy John's "was often highlighted as an entrepreneurial success story by failed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the 2012 campaign trail."

Wage theft, something many hoped was a dim memory of 19th-century Dickens tales, has become an epidemic in America. Billions of dollars in wages are stolen out of employees' pockets, and millions of workers affected each year. From denial of overtime to shortchanging on benefits to payroll fraud, hard-working people are getting robbed and often have little recourse to address the crimes because the laws are woefully inadequate and only sporadically enforced.

A conservative estimate of unpaid overtime alone reveals that it costs workers at least $19 billion every year. Women, minorities, immigrants, and workers at the bottom of the wage scale are the most vulnerable, but nobody is immune. Wage theft schemes are often so sneaky that employees don't even realize they are being cheated.

Wage theft is a perfect example of why neoclassical theories of the market sorting everybody out into mutually beneficial arrangements is absurd. When the power is weighted on one side, somebody is going to get screwed, and it's going to be the person serving the sandwiches.

Lynn Parramore is contributing editor at AlterNet. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU, and she serves on the editorial board of Lapham's Quarterly. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore. 

 

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