Restaurant Workers Protest, Demand Minimum Wage Hike. What’s the Impact on Wage and Hour Law?

Thousands of workers in the fast food industry recently launched a multi-city protest, demanding higher wages, the opportunity to unionize, and an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour (up from the current $7.25 per hour).

Despite the impassioned and heartrending stories out of Detroit, New York, Chicago and elsewhere, observers remain skeptical about whether the protests can change policy.

Restaurant industry organizations and other critics claim that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would lead to the loss of jobs and the closing of businesses. Some political groundswell for changing the minimum wage exists — there hasn’t been a hike, since 2009. President Obama recently pushed for a more modest increase, up to $9 per hour. Other, more progressive advocates in Congress want to bump the rate up to $10.50 per hour.

But it could be a tough road ahead for minimum wage advocates.

Stories about fast food workers losing their homes to foreclosure are poignant and devastating. But it’s tricky to figure out how to fix the flaws with the current system in a way that doesn’t “break things more.”

For instance, in response to the protests, USA Today ran an ad showing a fast food worker replaced by an automated iPod. The message was pretty clear: make human labor too expensive, and the restaurant industry will just automate positions and dispense using humans altogether.

But the question raised by these protesters is a potent one: How can workers get a square deal?

We at Joseph & Kirschenbaum have been on the vanguard of fighting for the rights of restaurant workers for years. We’ve waged successful class action lawsuits (per the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Laws) against some of the biggest, most powerful restaurant groups in New York City. Indeed, Attorney D. Maimon Kirschenbaum has even been called the “scourge” of the restaurant industry – a label he wears proudly.

One possible reason why our strategy is so successful is that we focus on obviously illegal actions. We shine a light on them in a fair and ethical way. If a restaurant owner illegally docks a server’s tips or compels workers to work 55 hours a week (while only paying them for 40 hours), the law has very clear mechanisms to punish the restaurant and compensate the wronged employees.

Whether you’ve been harassed, discriminated against or deliberately underpaid at work, the team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum would like to hear from you. Please learn more about what we do and why at, or call us for free consultation at (212) 688-5640. You can also email us at

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