In late March, McDonald’s announced that it will increase wages and offer paid time off for the roughly 90,000 workers at its 1,500 stores in the U.S. that are company owned. That’s about 10 percent of its restaurants. The company’s other 14,350 locations are operated by 3,100 franchisees, who set their own pay rates and employee benefits.
With the change, the new hourly wage rate for a fraction of McDonald’s workers will be $9.90. Some industry experts say that the move will force fast-food competitors such as Burger King and Taco Bell to change their baseline wages. And if McDonald’s new wage policy doesn’t sufficiently pressure them to do it, worker discontent may do the trick.
“The nation’s economy has grown so few jobs in the past 20 years, about one-third of the fast-food work force are now parents,” John A. Gordon, a restaurant consultant, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“It’s a totally different work force than it was 20 years ago,” Gordon said. And it’s a reality that McDonald’s corporate team may be trying to get out in front of.
The news of McDonald’s wage hike came less than a month after the corporation hired a new CEO, Steve Easterbrook, to replace Don Thompson. Easterbrook is the former head of McDonald’s in the United Kingdom and northern Europe. The company had been suffering from a slump in sales and an image crisis, particularly in the wake of nationwide protests, many spearheaded by McDonald’s employees, over the company’s low wages and sparse benefits.
“As the new CEO of McDonald’s Corp., I’m taking action to make McDonald’s a modern, progressive burger company on many fronts, focusing specifically on the consumer perception of our food, and our people,” said Easterbrook in a Chicago Tribune op-ed published April 1.
“I believe the time is right to take a first step in rewarding our team members who work so hard every day. Wage is just one part of the equation. Getting people started on the road to success by providing the skills, training and opportunities they need to continuously improve is also important,” he said.
But for some groups, such as the National Employment Law Project, Easterbrook’s concession isn’t enough. Christine Owens, the organization’s executive director, told the Sun-Times that the increase is
“Even for those employees who will benefit, the rate adjustment will still leave many hovering around the poverty line,” Owens said. “For a corporation that raked in nearly $5 billion in profit last year and compensated its CEO $13.8 million in 2013, in a $200 billion industry with the greatest disparity between CEO and worker pay, McDonald’s can and should do better.”
Last May, McDonald’s workers participated in strikes that called for $15 minimum wage. The protests engulfed more than 150 U.S. cities, including Miami, Boston and Los Angeles as part of a national ‘Fight for 15’ campaign.
Rev. Larry Dowling, pastor of North Lawndale’s St. Agatha Parish and the board president of Arise Chicago, had participated in the demonstrations.
“The fast food industry we all know is booming,” he told Progress Illinois. “McDonald’s and Burger King are part of a $200 billion industry. They should pay their hard-working employees enough to cover the necessities and support their families, and not force taxpayers to shoulder the burden. Profitable fast food companies can afford to give their workers a decent wage and respect their rights to form a union.”
“It’s time for fast food giants to treat the people who make and serve the food throughout the world, as well as their customers who are unknowingly footing the bill for public assistance for these employees, [with] the respect and dignity that comes from our faith, it comes from basic human dignity and the need to support our families,” Dowling said.