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On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
McDonald’s cashiers and cooks in 15 U.S. cities will strike on May 19—a day before the fast-food behemoth’s annual shareholder meeting—to demand McDonald’s pay all of its workers at least $15 an hour amid a national labor shortage in the fast food industry.
In recent months, McDonald’s stores have become desperate for employees, offering workers bonuses and incentives to sign up for a job. One store in Fayetteville, North Carolina is offering a $500 sign on bonus, according to a poster viewed by Motherboard. An owner of 60 McDonald’s franchises in Florida is paying job applicants $50 just to show up for an interview. In one recent viral TikTok, a McDonald’s customer rolled up at a drive thru to find a sign that read, “We are short-staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore.” Republican lawmakers are blaming the labor shortage on the Coronavirus relief bill and generous unemployment benefits.
Striking workers around the country, who are part of the Fight For $15 movement, say McDonald’s has an easy solution to this labor shortage: it can simply raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour at all of their stores. The company’s sales are booming, thanks to demand for faster drive-thru orders. McDonald’s recently announced that it earned $5 billion in profits in 2020, and paid shareholders nearly $4 billion in dividends.
“We know McDonald’s is gathering for its shareholders meeting to discuss what straws we use, what bags we use, how much we get paid,” Terrence Wise, a McDonald’s department manager in Kansas City, Missouri, who has worked in the fast food industry for 22 years told Motherboard.
“The one thing that’s missing is our voice” he continued. “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, that should be the floor.”
On the day of the strike, workers will be walking off the job in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Kansas City, St Louis, Houston, Milwaukee and other cities. McDonald’s workers have been organizing for $15 an hour minimum wage legislation since 2012, when they launched the Fight for $15 movement.
“Our first responsibility is to hardworking restaurant crew, and we respect and appreciate their dedication to serve millions of customers daily,” a statement from McDonald’s USA said. “It’s the responsibility of federal and local government to set minimum wage, and we’re open to dialogue so that any changes meet the needs of thousands of hardworking restaurant employees and the 2,000 McDonald’s independent owner/operators who run small businesses.”
In late April, on an earnings call, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski and president Joseph Erlinger suggested that a McDonald’s wage increase could be coming soon, in response to a question about labor shortages.
“I think one of the things that we are thinking about…is in our company-owned restaurants, how do we think about what the pay and benefits package need to look like for us to make sure that we’re able to get the people that we need,” Kempczinski said.
“We’re working through what some changes in our company-owned restaurants might look like from a wages and compensation perspective,” Erlinger added.
Earlier this year, a Motherboard investigation revealed that McDonald’s has a secret intel team that has spied on its workers in the Fight for $15 campaign for years using social media monitoring tools, labelling the group at a security threat. In response, the Fight for $15 movement, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), filed federal charges against McDonald’s, for “unlawful surveillance of workers and union organizers participating in the Fight for $15 campaign, using tactics including extensive monitoring of social media activity.” An investigation is ongoing.
Earlier this year, progressive Democrats tried to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by including the wage hike in the federal coronavirus relief bill, but Republicans and moderate Democrats stood in the way.
Despite decades of experience, Wise, the Kansas City McDonald’s worker, earns $15.75 an hour and receives no health care benefits or paid sick days as a McDonald’s manager, and says it’s barely enough to scrape by and support his three teenage daughters in Kansas City.
“Our stores are making record profits during the pandemic and we’re short-staffed,” Wise continued. “We’re pissed off. McDonald’s has had the opportunity to do what’s right.”
On May 19, striking workers will also demand that McDonald’s withdraw its membership from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the International Franchise Association (IRA), which have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying Congress against the federal minimum wage increase since 2019, according to federal lobbying reports.
In 2019, McDonald’s promised to stop lobbying against local, state, and federal minimum wage increases, but has continued to play a part in these efforts by retaining its membership to these two powerful business associations.