“The conversation about wages is an important one; it’s one we wish to advance, not impede,” Genna Gent, McDonald’s vice president of government relations, wrote in the letter. McDonald’s believes that minimum-wage increases should be phased in, Gent said, and that all industries should be treated equally.
The move marks a dramatic shift for the chain; it comes after 19 states raised their pay minimums at the start of the year and amid intensifying grass-roots efforts to advance working-class policies. Fast-food restaurants and retail stores became political battlegrounds as service industry workers pressed for unionization and higher wages. Through strikes, protests and advocacy, groups like Fight for $15 galvanized the minimum-wage campaign and have pressured McDonald’s and other major fast-food chains to take action.
When asked for comment, McDonald’s referred The Washington Post back to the letter.
Mollie O’Dell, a spokeswoman, said the restaurant trade group represents all aspects of the industry. “Our members are as diverse as the communities they serve, and the economies of every region are different,” she said.
Politico first reported on the McDonald’s letter.
In recent years, low-income earners and progressive advocates have found success at the ballot box — bypassing Congress and state legislatures to impose minimum wage increases. And they are poised to mount additional campaigns in 2020.
Democratic lawmakers unveiled a bill to raise the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2024. But some economists contend that a uniform wage increase would harm small businesses and rural areas. The White House’s top economic adviser has said he would oppose efforts to lift the federal minimum. Democrats also would have to overcome a Republican-controlled Senate.
Labor advocates, however, point to the McDonald’s announcement as further proof of the shifting tide in the minimum-wage debate.
“McDonald’s decision to no longer use its power, influence and deep pockets to block minimum wage increases shows the power workers have when we join together, speak out and go on strike,” said Terrence Wise, a Kansas City, Mo., McDonald’s worker and Fight for $15 leader, in a statement. “It’s also a recognition that the position to fight minimum wage increases tooth and nail that the company clung to for so long is no longer tenable.”
Even with the change, though, McDonald’s did not say whether it would raise its workers’ pay. The company has 1.9 million people on its payroll, making it the world’s second largest private employer.
According to its letter, the average starting wage at corporate-owned stores is more than $10 an hour. The company said that it does not control wages at independently owned restaurants but that it believes the average base wage is “likely similar.”
“Now, McDonald’s needs to use its profits and power to give thousands of cooks and cashiers across the country a real shot at the middle class by raising pay to $15 an hour and respecting its workers’ right to a union,” Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement. She urged the restaurant to follow the lead of other companies, like Target and Costco, which have or will set base pay at $15 per hour.
Walmart, the largest U.S. private employer, announced a starting wage increase from $9 to $11 an hour last year.