April 8, 2015
By Christine Owens
Executive Director, National Employment Law Project
The April 1, announcement by McDonald’s that it is raising wages by $1 over local minimum wage rates for employees of the fast food operations it directly owns is a modest gesture that will boost pay a little for a small number of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who are trying to make a living selling McDonald’s food and burnishing McDonald’s brand. Even this action would not have happened without the courageous advocacy of fast food workers around the country who, in their Fight for $15, are raising public awareness of the costs of low wages and raising the stakes for big companies that can, but won’t, raise workers’ pay.
Few could have imagined that a one-day strike of 200 fast food workers in New York City would become the catalyst for a nationwide movement for a $15 wage floor – a movement that has been widely credited with elevating the conversation around income inequality and that has prompted dozens of local and state governments to raise the minimum wage for millions of workers.
This pay announcement is just the most recent response of a major national corporation to the courageous organizing of workers across the country, who have engaged in walk-outs, strikes and protests, sometimes facing retaliation and arrest, to call attention to substandard workplace practices at McDonald’s and elsewhere in the low-wage economy.
But the McDonald’s action falls far short of what is needed to make sure fast food jobs provide a decent living for the men and women who work in them. It leaves out hundreds of thousands of McDonald’s workers at franchises, most of whom are adults and many of whom are trying to support families on poverty wages and inadequate hours. And even for those employees who will benefit, the rate adjustment will still leave many hovering around the poverty line. 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 much better.
Fast food workers are rightly demanding a greater share in the profits that McDonald’s and other fast-food corporations are earning off their labor. They are fighting for wages that can lift them out of poverty and support their families. And they are demanding the right to organize without fear of retaliation to win better protections on the job. In a sector that is large and growing more than almost any other in our economy, ensuring good wages and working conditions for the ever-increasing number of workers in these jobs is not only the right thing to do—it is essential for the health and sustainability of our economy overall.