Opinion

The Great Debate

Who really owns your friendly neighborhood McDonald’s?

Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles

I work at a McDonald’s franchise, but the corporation is my boss.

McDonald’s may say it’s not — and argue this point before the National Labor Relations Board. But the corporation sure acts like one. It sets the rules and controls just about every aspect of our franchise.

On Tuesday, the board’s general counsel determined that McDonald’s is a joint employer in its restaurants. McDonald’s has said it will fight this. But under the ruling, McDonald’s can’t say I work only for the franchise, and the corporation has to respond to my co-workers and I when we demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union directly.

It’s about time. To anyone who works for the company — as I have for 25 years — it’s clear who’s in charge.

Demonstrators gather outside a McDonald's restaurant in New YorkLet’s start with where I work. The store is owned by McDonald’s, like the majority of Golden Arches franchises. The company charges rent. I work at a “signature” store, meaning it’s a big money maker. It also means we are usually among the first to get building upgrades. Corporate wants it to look a certain way — and has the power to evict the franchise owner if the restaurant doesn’t look right.

A representative from McDonald’s shows up at my store five or six times a year. Sometimes the representative stands outside the drive-through, counting cars and timing each sale. The company knows that the faster employees work, the more customers are served — and the more profits MacDonald’s makes.

I’m making $21 an hour at McDonald’s. Why aren’t you?

mcdonalds -- topI work for McDonald’s and I make $21 an hour.

No, that isn’t a typo. It’s really my salary.

You see, I work for McDonald’s in Denmark, where an agreement between our union and the company guarantees that workers older than 18 are paid at least $21 an hour. Employees younger than 18 make at least $15 — meaning teenagers working at McDonald’s in Denmark make more than two times what many adults in America earn working at the Golden Arches.

To anyone who says that fast-food jobs can’t be good jobs, I would answer that mine isn’t bad. In fact, parts of it are just fine. Under our union’s agreement with McDonald’s, for example, I receive paid sick leave that workers are still fighting for in many parts of the world. We also get overtime pay, guaranteed hours and at least two days off a week, unlike workers in most countries. At least 10 percent of the staff in any given restaurant must work at least 30 hours a week.

mcmoneyBut in New York last week, I met fast-food workers from around the world who aren’t as lucky as I am. We marched through Midtown Manhattan demanding a fair wage and respect at the workplace.

The fight for a global minimum wage

Demonstrators gather during a nationwide strike and protest at fast food restaurants to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 in New YorkOn Thursday, fast-food workers in more than 30 countries across six continents will take coordinated action on an unprecedented scale. In the United States, they will walk off their jobs in 150 cities — the largest strike ever. Workers around the world will join these protests in 80 cities.

The protestors are set to take over a McDonald’s during lunchtime rush hour in Belgium; hold flash-mobs at McDonald’s restaurants across the Philippines, and conduct a teach-in at McDonald’s headquarters in New Zealand.

The spread of the fast-food movement to the global stage is notable for the speed at which it has happened. What began as a single strike in New York City in November 2012, with roughly 200 workers participating, has in 18 months spread across the country and now across national borders. The efforts of fast-food workers have captured the nation’s attention, been featured in President Barack Obama’s speeches on inequality and inspired local elected officials to raise minimum wages.

The minimum wage fight: From San Francisco to de Blasio’s New York

In his State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama urged cities and states to bypass Congress and enact their own minimum wage increases. “You don’t have to wait for Congress,” he stated.

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the president’s advice. De Blasio announced, in his State of the City address, that he plans to ask Albany next week to give the city the power to raise the minimum wage.

The New York mayor is not the only elected official putting Obama’s words into action. Cities across the country, from New York to Seattle, are moving aggressively to confront rising income inequality and falling real wages for low-paid workers. These cities can learn important lessons from San Francisco’s bold experiments over the last 15 years.

Trying to raise a family on a fast-food salary

Fast-food workers in more than 50 cities Thursday are striking for fair pay and the right to form a union — the biggest walkout to hit the industry. This latest round of labor unrest comes 50 years after hundreds of thousands of Americans, led by Martin Luther King Jr., joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, demanding not only civil rights, but also good jobs and economic equality.

One demand of the 1963 marchers was raising the federal minimum wage to $2 an hour. In today’s dollars, that’s roughly $15 an hour — what the striking fast-food workers are now calling for.

For all the progress made since 1963, the reality is that economic inequality persists and continues to grow. Income inequality is greater today in the U.S. than in any other OECD nation, except Chile, Mexico and Turkey, and exceeds that of many developing countries.

Rebuilding America’s high-wage economy

Good for President Barack Obama for emphasizing the need to restore America’s middle class. However, the actual proposals in his new summer offensive would not go very far toward that worthy goal.

America is moving, at an accelerating pace, toward an economy with tens of millions of poorly paid service jobs at one end, and a relatively small number of astronomically compensated financial jobs at the other. In between the fast food workers, who demonstrated this week for a living wage, and the hedge fund billionaires is a new creative class heavily based on the Internet. But the web entrepreneurs are too narrow a segment on which to rebuild a broad middle class.

For a quarter-century after World War Two, America was a far more equal society — with jobs that paid a “family wage” on a single paycheck. One question dividing economists now is whether the more equal, high-wage economy of the postwar era is irrevocably gone with the steel mills of Pittsburgh. Or whether a service economy can become an egalitarian one with a different set of policies.

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