The “Fight for $15”: How the Battle Over Minimum Wage at McDonald’s Could Reshape the Labor Landscape

New York employment lawyers, restaurant owners, and employees throughout the country are watching with baited breath as pivotal litigation unfolds against McDonald’s. The civil rights suits filed against the fast food giant stem from employee complaints over workplace bullying, which claimants allege took place after they requested higher pay and better working conditions. The allegations include discrimination, threats, and reduced hours for broaching the subject of better wages and working conditions.

The media has called the suit the “fight for $15,” a reference to a push from labor advocates to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour. Currently, the minimum wage in New York is $8.75. While New York’s rate is technically above the federal standard for minimum wage by 55 cents, critics say this $8.75 figure is woefully inadequate to cover living expenses in New York City, even for those who work 40-hour weeks.

The fast food corporation is attempting to pawn the claim off on franchisee owners, but it appears that intense litigation may be headed for McDonald’s corporate office. That litigation is expected to begin in March, and case watchers believe it will likely lead to a long legal process.

The New York Times reported that the overarching theme of “unionization without retaliation” has been spreading from this one isolated case to other industries. So how should an employee – at a restaurant or other service business – advocate for fairer wages and working conditions?

In New York, workers are generally legally entitled to the following:

  • Pay for any authorized breaks less than 20 minutes.
  • Overtime pay at time-and-one-half.
  • Prevailing Wage (union level) for construction workers on government funded projects.
  • A discrimination and harassment-free workplace.
  • A safe work environment.

Large corporations and restaurants, such as McDonald’s, may have the resources to fight back against labor rights advocates and quash attempts to increase the minimum wage. However, the allegations against McDonald’s are serious, and this case could herald exciting (and long overdue) changes to fast food industry practices… and labor practices in other industries as well.

Seek the advice of a qualified New York employment lawyer if you have questions regarding your rights as an employee. Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP for a free evaluation today at (212) 688-5640, or email us at

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