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.

Today’s South is boldly moving backward

mahurin for bishop

We used to call it the “New South.” That was the era after Reconstruction and before the Civil Rights laws — when the states of the old Confederacy seemed most determined to preserve a social and economic order that encouraged low-wage industrialization as they fought to maintain Jim Crow.

What was then distinctive about the South had almost as much to do with economic inequality as racial segregation. Between roughly 1877 and 1965, the region was marked by low-wages, little government, short lives and lousy health — not just for African-Americans but for white workers and farmers.

Volkswagen employees work on the assembly line of the 2012 VW Passat in Chattanooga TennesseeThe Civil Rights revolution and the rise of an economically dynamic Sun Belt in the 1970s and ‘80s seemed to end that oppressive and insular era. The Research Triangle in North Carolina, for example, has more in common with California’s Silicon Valley than with Rust Belt manufacturing. The distinctive American region known as the South had truly begun to vanish.

Four lessons from Seattle’s 60 percent minimum wage hike

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Today, fast-food workers in 150 cities across America and 30 countries across the world are striking over what they say are low wages and unfair working conditions in order to achieve what Seattle is very close to implementing: a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The Seattle proposal is a giant experiment. Developed by a committee of business, labor and community representatives convened by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, the proposal could be implemented as early as October. The wage hike would be the largest of any city in the country: a $5.68 per hour increase over 2.5 years for Seattle’s largest businesses. An estimated 100,000 workers would be affected; by one estimate the proposal would put $2.9 billion into the wallets of low-wage workers over the next 10 years. Other cities have raised their minimum wage without lasting negative impacts on the economy, but no other increase was as big as this one.

As a member of the advisory committee that developed the final proposal, here are four lessons from Seattle that would help other wage-hike proponents replicate our model.

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.

Why not a war on child poverty?

President Barack Obama’s recent speeches at the LBJ Presidential Library and National Action Network marking the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Act had a serious omission. While acknowledging “our work is unfinished,” Obama failed to mention this nation’s worst social trend: the stunning increase of children and youth living in poverty.

Since 1969, the proportion of children and youth in poverty rose by 56 percent, even as the economic fortunes of the elderly improved under programs like Medicare and Social Security. Today, 32 million American children and youth are confronting poverty — including 7 million suffering utter destitution, another 9 million living in serious poverty and 16 million more in low-income households struggling just above poverty lines.

Even as Obama has launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative to help poorer young men, his administration continues to largely ignore this larger issue. In fact, Obama said, addressing youth poverty “doesn’t take all that much.” No federal money has been budgeted for the initiative.

Executive orders: Part of the framers’ grand plan

President Barack Obama has used his executive authority to stop deporting undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children. The administration has also announced that it will stop requesting mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders.

Obama is now using executive orders and other unilateral exercises of executive power to advance his agenda rather than wait on Republicans in Congress.

The GOP has grown increasingly outraged by the president’s actions. House Republicans last week passed the “Enforce the Law Act,” part of a continuing campaign to label any action by the president as “executive overreach.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this year felt the need to “remind” the president that “we do have a Constitution.”

On minimum wage: Mind the Gap

Just 24 hours after Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25 would deal a “devastating blow to the very people that need help most,” Gap Inc. announced it would raise employees’ minimum pay to $10 per hour by next year.

In striking contrast to the alarms sounded by McConnell, Gap chief executive officer Glenn Murphy emphasized the benefits of this pay raise for the company’s lowest-paid workers. He described it as a “strategic investment to do more for our employees” — one that  will help “attract and retain a skilled, enthusiastic and engaged workforce.”

If there’s a lesson in the recent tug-of-war over the Congressional Budget Office’s report estimating the impact of a federal minimum wage increase, it’s that despite the dire predictions made by opponents of raising the minimum wage, many CEOs have already seen that higher wages are good for business.

FDR set the terms for labor executive orders

Many critics have called President Barack Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage for federally contracted workers an unprecedented bold action. The president bypassed a gridlocked Congress to increase pay to $10.10 an hour — and raise labor standards for the only federal workers directly within his authority.

This move is a significant step in combating income inequality. The federal government is the largest low-wage job creator — with more than 2 million low-wage workers. That’s more than Wal-Mart and McDonald’s combined.

This move is bold, yes. But not unprecedented. The path to this solution was paved more than 70 years ago by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The middle class’s missing $1.6 trillion

The United States was the world’s first middle-class nation, which was a big factor in its rapid growth.  Mid-19th-century British travelers marveled at American workers’ “ductility of mind and the readiness…for a new thing” and admired how hard and willingly they labored. Abraham Lincoln attributed it the knowledge that “humblest man [had] an equal chance to get rich with everyone else.”

Most Americans still think of themselves as middle class.  But the marketing experts at the big consumer goods companies are giving their bosses the unsentimental advice that the middle class is an endangered species. Restaurants, appliance makers, grocery chains, hotels are learning that they either have to go completely up-scale, or focus on bargains for the struggling and budget-conscious.

Current income surveys, for statistical reasons, usually segment families by broad categories, which obscure the recent radical shift of income to a thin stratum of the super-rich. Well-to-do people may buy $100 coffee pots, but the lion’s share of the income growth has been going to folks with five houses and staff to make the coffee.

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