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Fast Food Advocates Rally Against ‘Wage Theft’ As Schneiderman Announces McDonald’s Settlement

A man named Ben, who chose not to give his last name, dressed as Ronald McDonald, participates in a rally in New York City on March 18, 2014. (credit: Getty Images)

A man named Ben, who chose not to give his last name, dressed as Ronald McDonald, participates in a rally in New York City on March 18, 2014. (credit: Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — On the same day protesters gathered at McDonald’s restaurants nationwide to accuse the fast food giant of “wage theft,” New York’s attorney general announced that one of the chain’s franchise owners has agreed to a settlement after a state investigation revealed that he stiffed workers.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Richard Cisneros, who owns seven McDonald’s franchises in Manhattan, will pay $500,000 after he failed to pay legally required laundry allowances for workers, did not compensate employees for some time worked and unlawfully deducted wages to cover shortfalls for cashier’s registers, according to an investigation by the attorney general’s office.

“Like every other business in New York State, fast food employers must follow our labor laws,” Schneiderman said in a news release. “Our lowest wage workers deserve the same protections of the law as everyone else.”

Meanwhile, protesters across the country sought Tuesday to call attention to the denial of overtime pay and other violations they say deprive fast-food workers of the money they’re owed.

Organizers have been pushing for higher wages for fast-food workers for more than a year, but on Tuesday they shifted their sights slightly with rallies across the country.

McDonald’s said in a statement its restaurants remain open “today — and every day — thanks to the teams of dedicated employees serving our customers.”

The actions are part of an ongoing campaign by union organizers to build public support for a higher wages. The Service Employees International Union has been providing financial and organizational support for the push, which began in late 2012. A series of protests since then calling for pay of $15 an hour has captured national media attention and served as a backdrop for President Barack Obama’s push to raise the federal minimum wage.

On Tuesday, organizers said rallies were planned for about 30 cities, including Boston, Miami and Chicago, but it wasn’t clear how significant the turnout would be at various locations. In New York, roughly 50 protesters streamed into a McDonald’s across the street from the Empire State Building around noon, surprising some customers inside. They managed to chant for a few minutes before being kicked out by police. It wasn’t clear how many protesters were fast-food workers, rather than campaign organizers or supporters.

Once back outside the restaurants, members of the group took turns speaking before a large gathering of TV cameras and other media. New York City public advocate Letitia James arrived and voiced her support while standing next to a protester dressed as a villainous Ronald McDonald.

“It’s hard enough for fast-food workers to survive in this economy,” James said before saying she would introduce legislation to establish a hotline to report “wage theft.”

It was a far smaller showing than other protests over the past year. Still, the latest rallies reflect the push by labor groups to keep continued pressure on the issue of worker pay.

In Los Angeles, a crowd of 50 also turned up at a McDonald’s for a demonstration that lasted about a half-hour. The group held a brief news conference outside before marching inside with banners and signs; demonstrators weren’t asked to leave.

In a statement, the National Restaurant Association called the demonstrations “orchestrated union PR events where the vast majority of participants are activists and paid demonstrators.”

The demonstrations are a follow-up to lawsuits filed last week in three states on behalf of workers, who said they had their wages stolen by McDonald’s and its franchisees. Workers said money was deducted from their paychecks for their uniforms, and that they were sometimes made to wait around before they could clock in, according to the lawsuits.

The workers were referred to attorneys by the organizers of the fast-food protests.

McDonald’s, which has more than 14,000 U.S. locations, has said it will investigate the allegations and take any necessary action.

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