Rapper Rick Ross’ family, which operates several Wingstop franchises, owns the five Mississippi locations the labor department found to be illegally deducting money from workers’ wages, leaving some with take-home pay less than $7.25 an hour.
The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division says the Mississippi stores – under Boss Wing Enterprises – made their employees illegally pay for uniforms, safety training, background checks, and even cash register shortages.
“Restaurant industry employees work hard, often for low wages, and many depend on every dollar earned to make ends meet,” Jackson’s Wage and Hour Division director, Audrey Hall, said in a statement. “The law prevents Boss Wing Enterprises LLC from shifting operating costs to workers … or to allow a worker’s pay to fall below the minimum wage rate.”
The rapper and Clarksdale native’s older sister and assistant, Tawanda Roberts, is listed as the registered agent and manager of Boss Wings Enterprises LLC in Mississippi, according to business records filed with the state. His mother, Tommie Roberts, is also listed. Ross’ family has been growing its number of Wingstop locations for the last decade.
Last year, the rapper posted to Instagram he gifted his 16-year-old son his first Wingstop franchise.
The DOL says it recovered $51,674 in wages owed to 244 workers and fined the franchise company $62,753 in civil penalties.
Tawanda Roberts did not respond to a request for comment to her business email regarding the DOL’s investigation. A Boss Wing representative reached by phone told a reporter to contact Wingstop’s corporate public relations department for comment, even though they operate independently. In a statement, Wingstop distanced itself from Boss Wings.
“The restaurants investigated by the DOL are owned and operated by a franchisee, not Wingstop Restaurants Inc. Our franchise agreement requires all of our franchisees to operate under our operating standards, which requires compliance with all laws and regulations,” the company said in a statement. “We were not previously aware of the DOL action against Boss Wings LLC.”
During its investigation, the Wage and Hour Division found minimum wage violations because of improper paycheck deductions; overtime violations when the employer deducted wages for safety training and background checks during weeks workers took extra shifts; and violations for failing to maintain proper records of hours workers logged.
Investigators also found a 15-year-old who illegally worked past 10 p.m. last June. Federal law says young teens cannot work past 7 p.m.
The DOL says it has uncovered more than $34.7 million for more than 29,000 workers in the food service industry during the last fiscal year. At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to report record job openings in the service industry as an influx of service workers begin efforts to organize unions.
READ MORE: Starbucks employees and others trying to unionize in Mississippi face decades-old hardships
“Employers who do not respect their workers’ rights will likely struggle to retain and recruit the people they need to remain competitive, as workers look for opportunities with employers that do,” Hall said.
Ross and his sister have spoken publicly about their entry into the wing business. The rapper – whose 2006 song “Hustlin” launched him to fame – told Forbes in 2014 that he first thought about opening a franchise of his favorite wing spot shortly after his music career took off.
Tawanda Roberts is an alum of Mississippi Valley State. Boss Wing lists its offices based in Southaven in state records. The DOL named the Wingstop locations in Clarksdale, Tupelo, Starkville, Olive Branch, and Oxford as part of its investigation.
Ross cut the ribbon to open the downtown Clarksdale location in 2020.
“This is an opportunity for jobs in Clarksdale and an opportunity for the Black community,” Ross told local media during the opening ceremony. “This will bring people downtown and Clarksdale needs that.”
The rapper had a cluster of locations in Memphis, but Wingstop’s corporate office said Boss Wings has transferred those locations to a new operator. Most of the family’s locations are throughout the southeast and Miami, where Ross lives.
It’s unclear how many Wingstop locations the family now runs, but a Wingstop blog said Ross owned 28 as of 2019.
This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.
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