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McDonald’s Raises Pay at Some Restaurants, but Workers Still Plan Strike for $15 Minimum Wage

The recent wage hike doesn’t apply to 95 percent of workers at franchise restaurants. Detroit and Flint workers will join McDonald’s employees in 15 other cities in a walkout next week.

A McDonald’s restaurant sign on a blue sky background.
McDonald’s employees plan to walk out in 15 cities, including Detroit and Flint, next week.
Shutterstock/Ken Wolter

McDonald’s is boosting the hourly wages for some of its workers, joining a number of fast-food chains nationwide lifting pay as jobs go unfilled. But employees in Detroit and other cities across the nation say they’re still moving forward with a planned strike on Wednesday, May 19, pointing out that the pay raises will only impact a small portion of McDonald’s-owned restaurants.

The McDonald’s wage announcement this week follows a similar one by Chipotle, and comes just days before the fast-food giant’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Tuesday. A workers’ strike is scheduled for the next day.

McDonald’s says the raises, which already have begun to roll out, will shift the entry-level range for 36,500 crew members “to at least $11 to $17 an hour, and the starting range for shift managers to at least $15 to $20 an hour based on restaurant location.” But Fight for $15, organizers behind the strike in 15 cities, say that the pay increases apply only to employees at corporate-owned and operated stores, which account for just 5 percent of its U.S. restaurants. The majority of McDonald’s 14,000 U.S. stores are owned by franchisees, who set pay in their own restaurants.

McDonald’s worker Flato Alexander says he’ll demonstrate after his shift that starts at 5 a.m. in Flint, where he opens the store and works the grill alone for breakfast until 9.

An 11-year employee at McDonald’s, he tells Eater he’s received periodic raises “of a nickel or dime or quarter.” Currently, he makes $11.05 an hour, and receives no health or dental benefits, paid leave, or overtime pay. “Ain’t that amazing after all these years?” Alexander says.

Alexander says he struggles to make ends meet. “If I had been working in a factory, it would have been a different story,” he says. “Here, you’re stagnated in the same spot.”

Fight for $15 rallied at a McDonald’s near Livernois and West McNichols in northwest Detroit in January, calling on the Biden administration to raise the minimum wage in his first 100 days in office. The group also has shut down a portion of Outer Drive on the west side, and gathered 1,000 people in demonstrations in the last few years. Restaurants have stayed open during the strikes. Fight for $15 says it’s been organizing for minimum wage legislation since its inception in 2012.

However, this year’s strike comes as a critical time when many jobs in the restaurant industry remain vacant, and stores are feeling greater pressure to raise pay. Chipotle said on Monday, May 10, that it will raise workers’ pay to an average of $15 per hour by the end of June. Darden Restaurants, owner of Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, and a handful of other chains, in March promised workers $12 per hour including tips by 2023.

Striking workers say there’s an easy solution to the reported labor shortage in the industry: Pay a $15 minimum wage at every store. Business is booming at fast-food restaurants, thanks to drive-thru demand during the pandemic that boosted sales, while neighborhood restaurants are suffering. Striking workers also point out that they’ve shown up during the pandemic, and even helped the chain thrive, despite sometimes dangerous conditions. McDonald’s made $4.7 billion in profit last year, paying its shareholders nearly $4 billion in dividends. CEO Chris Kempczinski received more than $10.8 million in total compensation, according to company filings.

“In 2012, 200 fast-food workers in New York City walked off the job to demand $15 per hour and a union — and nine years later, our demands haven’t changed,” Doneshia Babbitt, a McDonald’s employee in St. Louis says in a statement.

“Clearly, McDonald’s understands that in order to hire and retain talented workers, something needs to change. They’ve tried offering $500 signing bonuses for new employees and they’ve even tried handing out McChicken sandwiches in exchange for a job interview. Now, they’re raising pay for some of us and using fancy math tricks to gloss over the fact that they’re selling most of us short.”

Metro Detroit workers will gather at noon on Wednesday at 19840 Van Dyke Ave in Warren.

In a written statement, McDonald’s says, “It’s the responsibility of federal and local governments to set minimum wage, and we’re open to dialogue so that any changes meet the needs of thousands of hardworking restaurant employees as the 2,000 McDonald’s independent owner/operators who run small businesses.”

In Michigan, the minimum wage is $9.65 per hour for non-tipped workers, which is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, but it’s not enough for striking workers. Yet, by some estimates, $15 per hour in 2021 is no longer a living wage.

“Somebody’s gotta stand up for us,” Alexander, the worker in Flint, says.