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McDonald’s “Wage Increase” Won’t Affect 95 Percent of Its Franchise Employees

The company is bragging about small wage raises at only 5 percent of its locations ahead of a planned strike next week.

A sign at a McDonald's restaurant on Penn Ave in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, on April 8, 2021, reads, "Work Here $15 And Free Meals."

McDonald’s announced on Thursday that it would be raising the wages for its restaurant workers. But the announcement comes with several caveats in the fine print.

The fast food behemoth said that it would be raising hourly wages for employees by 10 percent and that employee pay at all of its company-owned restaurants would reach an average of $15 an hour in several years. The company says that it’s raising its wages in hopes of attracting more employees as restaurants struggle to find workers willing to work for low wages during the pandemic.

Though many news outlets ran with headlines merely touting the wage raise, the reality of the story is less enticing. First, the corporation only owns 5 percent of its restaurant locations, which means that 95 percent of the employees working for the franchise won’t be affected by the raises.

Additionally, an average wage isn’t equivalent to a minimum wage. McDonald’s says that, with 10 percent raises, the average wage at its corporate-owned restaurants will increase to $13 an hour, and $15 an hour by 2024.

But the company touting the average wage instead of the minimum wage means that the fast food chain could still pay some employees $11 an hour and pay others more to balance out the average — while still bragging about the flashy and much-vaunted $15 an hour figure.

The company is crowing about its wage raise; it posted the announcement on social media, complete with a statement from their multimillionaire U.S. president, Joe Erlinger, claiming, “Our first value is taking care of our people.”

Bragging that McDonald’s will bring up their average hourly wage to $15 in several years isn’t much of a statement from the company whose executives have admitted in meetings with shareholders that a $15 federal minimum wage wouldn’t hurt their bottom line.

The new announcement shows, instead, the company’s unwillingness to pay all of its employees a living wage of at least $15 an hour, which reports have found is the minimum required for survival in many parts of the country. And the timing of the announcement is likely a public relations ploy for the company.

Indeed, the announcement comes just as McDonald’s employees in 15 cities are planning to strike on May 19 to demand a minimum wage of $15 per hour. McDonald’s employees have been pushing for a $15 minimum wage since 2012, when fast food workers around the country went on strike to launch the Fight for $15 movement.

In retaliation, the company spied on its workers associated with the movement for years, Motherboard reported. The company used social media monitoring tools to keep tabs on organizing employees and track possible strikes, protests or unionization activity.

As the company gathers its shareholders to discuss expenses, “The one thing that’s missing is our voice” Terrance Wise, a McDonald’s department manager in Kansas City, Missouri, told Vice. Kansas City McDonald’s workers are planning to strike on the 19th. “We made them that $5 billion in profit last year. There wouldn’t be shares to divide if we weren’t making burgers and McFlurries. Our message to shareholders on May 19 is you don’t have to wait on legislation. You can pay us $15 an hour now.”

Employees say that the company would have an easier time retaining employees if they were paid a minimum of $15 an hour. Fast food workers and other frontline workers have struggled during the pandemic as many companies have illegally denied them paid leave and forced them to risk contracting COVID-19 on the job while paying them low wages.

“We’ve showed up to work day after day in the middle of a global pandemic, risking our lives without proper [personal protective equipment] or paid time off to keep your stores open and corporate profits flowing,” said St. Louis McDonald’s worker and Fight for $15 leader Doneshia Babbitt in a statement in response to McDonald’s Thursday announcement. “You’ve called us essential for over a year, but your announcement today proves that you’ve seen us as disposable all along.”

Employees have previously been frustrated with the company for breaking its promise to pay employees $1 above the minimum wage. In 2018, Bloomberg reported that, despite the company’s pledge years earlier, the company wasn’t keeping up with local minimum wage raises and many employees weren’t being paid what the company had promised in 2015.