McDonald’s Labor Organizers: “Where’s the Beef?”

People participate in rally in front of a McDonalds .

People participate in rally in front of a McDonalds in New York, Tuesday, March 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Workers’ rights organizers are not impressed with McDonald’s move to raise wages for certain employees by $1 above the local minimum wage. The problem, they point out, is that most of the fast food chain’s employees work at franchise locations and will not get this raise.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said organizer Ja’da Young, “but it’s still not enough. It doesn’t accomplish much.”

On Wednesday, McDonald’s announced that, on July 1, the starting hourly pay of about 90,000 employees who work in the company’s 1,500 company-owned stores in the United States will rise by one dollar per hour. As The Wall Street Journal first reported, that means that McDonald’s pay will top the local or state minimum wage, whichever is higher, by $1.

Thus employees in company-owned stores in New York will start at $9.75, above the state’s minimum of $8.75 an hour. McDonald’s would not confirm whether it directly operates stores in New York City. In an email, Media Relations director Lisa McComb said only that “McDonald’s has company owned restaurants throughout the U.S.” and that “for competitive reasons” does not share locations in different markets.

Young, a sophomore in Urban Studies at Columbia University and an organizer with the group CU Fight for 15, saw McDonald’s decision as “a slap in the face,” saying that it amounted to a “PR stunt.” She said that because she previously worked fast food jobs, she knows how hard it is to subsist on a low-wage salary.

“From my own personal experience, I witnessed my co-workers work two jobs, sixty-plus hours a week on a meager wage,” Young said. “That’s not feasible.”

Many in the workers’ rights movement felt short-changed by this decision. Fast Food Forward—a movement backed by the Service Employees International Union, which is spearheading a day of protests on April 15 to urge a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to form a union— took to its social media pages to voice its displeasure. “Hey McDonald’s: We said $15 and a union—for everybody. See you on April 15,” read a post on its Twitter and Facebook pages.

A number of New Yorkers also took to the streets on Thursday at McDonald’s stores in midtown Manhattan to urge a raise for every employee. Some held signs reading, “McDonald’s: Where’s my raise?”

Protest at West 36th and 6th ave

People protest inside a McDonald’s store in midtown Manhattan on April 2, 2015. (NY Communities for Change)

In a statement, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry echoed the workers’ sentiments: “The overwhelming majority of McDonald’s workers will still be paid wages so low that they can’t afford basics like rent and groceries,” she said. “We’ll keep fighting with them for a $15/hour wage floor and the right to join together in a union to improve the lives of all working families.”

Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s president and CEO, said the $1 raise came as a result of a workers’ survey in which workers said they wanted an enhanced benefits package. In a full page ad in The New York Times and others, and in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, Easterbrook wrote that by the end of 2016, “We project that the average hourly wage rate for McDonald’s employees at company-owned restaurants will be in excess of $10.”

Easterbrook also said the company was exploring other opportunities to foster employee success. “We know that a motivated workforce leads to better customer service so we believe this initial step not only benefits our employees, it will improve the McDonald’s restaurant experience,” Easterbrook said in a statement. “We’ll continue to evaluate opportunities that will make a difference for our people.”

McDonald’s will also provide up to five days of paid time- off for full and part-time crew employees at its company stores for employees who have been with the company for a year. The company will also pay for employees to finish high school and provide college tuition and language assistance to all eligible U.S. restaurant employees at both company-owned and franchised restaurants.

Lamar Richardson, another organizer with the CU Fight for $15 group, dismissed these other benefits, saying that earning a living wage is where the focus should rest. “I used to work for a franchise so I wouldn’t have gotten a raise if I still worked there,” the Columbia University senior said. “I worked for them for two years in Charlotte, North Carolina, but I was a high school student, living at home. I can’t imagine being in New York living on minimum wage.”

McDonald’s has argued that it is not responsible for settings wages and other worker practices at franchise- owned stores. But in a case that could be related, the National Labor Relations Board found that both the parent company and McDonald’s franchises would face complaints alleging “discriminatory discipline” against workers who took part in protests calling for higher wages during the past three years. The NLRB has yet to make a final decision on the case itself.