Papa John's Franchisee Shafted Delivery Workers, AG Alleges

Would you like shame with that?
Would you like shame with that?
By Scott Bauer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How's this for a reason to tip the delivery guy: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has just filed a lawsuit against a Papa John's franchisee, Ronald Johnson, for allegedly treating his workers even worse than the way we feel about ourselves after a massive pepperoni slice.

Investigators say Johnson's company made workers pay for and maintain their own delivery bikes. Those bikes probably cost a hefty chunk of change for the workers, who were getting only $5 an hour. That's less than the $7.25 minimum wage in New York State for much of the time period covered by the lawsuit, but it's even less than the $5.65 "tipped wage" that bosses can pay certain employees if they're making enough in tips.

"Nobody who works 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Like every other business in New York, fast-food employers must follow the law."

Prosecutors say Johnson's company, New Majority Holdings -- which owns four operating Papa John's franchises in Harlem -- failed to pay overtime and never paid "call-in" pay, to which an employee is entitled if he or she is called in to work but is not ultimately put on a shift.

Many in the food industry might be saying: "Overtime? Is that a thing?"

That's because while Schneiderman calls Johnson's behavior "brazen," many who work in food -- fast or slow -- know that at least some of the behaviors alleged against Johnson are par for the course. Eighty-four percent of New York fast-food workers report wage theft, according to a 2013 survey promoted by activist group Fast Food Forward, which originally brought the case to the attorney general's attention.

Luis Juarez, 22, worked at Papa John's on Cathedral Parkway for a year before moving to Domino's. "When I worked at Papa John's, there were too many nights when I couldn't work the hours I was assigned, or when my tips disappeared right from under me," he said in a statement released by Fast Food Forward. Even with tips, Juarez said, he often didn't come close to minimum wage. "We deserve to be treated with respect."

And it's not just the fast-food industry. Maria Myotte, a spokeswoman with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, says she hears from servers who choose to keep mum when they know they're getting the shaft. "The alternative is, they get fired," she says. "It is a fight just to get shifts and get hours...workers don't have a lot of power or recourse to confront their employers for appropriate pay."

In case, for some reason, you want to know where Johnson's Papa John's franchises are located (go give the workers a tip!), they can be found at 703 Lenox Avenue, Suite 705 N; 301 Cathedral Parkway; 2119 First Avenue; and 3477 Broadway. Another location, 329 Lenox Avenue, is now closed.

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