By Doug Porter
The national ‘conversation’ about inequality shifted a bit this week with a press release from fast food giant McDonald’s announcing it was planning a pay raise for employees of its company-owned stores.
The significance of the announcement isn’t the extra dollar on top of whatever is the local minimum wage for the less than 10% of the company’s workers. WalMart, Target, and a growing number of other large retailers operations have made similar announcements in recent months.
These pay increases are too little, too late. A study released by Americans for Tax Fairness earlier this week says increases to $9 (in 2015) and even $10 (in 2016) will still leave workers dependent on food stamps, Medicaid and six other taxpayer-funded programs to survive. And McDonald’s announcement has simply added fuel to the fire in the bellies of low wage workers planning on staging protests nation-wide on April 15th.
On Thursday local supporters of a $15 minimum wage picketed a McDonald’s location on Fairmount and University. Joining them were workers affiliated with the UDW Home Care Providers Union, foreshadowing the likelihood of the upcoming tax day demonstrations becoming a more more generalized statement about inequality.
UDW caregiver Noreen Woods was on hand to speak out for homecare and low-wage workers’ rights. “It’s not fair when workers can’t make a decent wage to support themselves and their families. We all need to be a part of this fight.”
Today we’ll sample some media reports on Mickey D’s PR move.
Is This an April Fools Joke?
From the Guardian:
Justin Johnson, who makes $7.60 an hour, does not qualify for a raise because he works at a franchisee-owned McDonald’s in St Louis, Missouri. Franchisees own about 90% of US McDonald’s stores. Johnson, 21, said that he will still join low-wage workers in the nationwide protests on 15 April to demand $15 an hour in pay.
“All I gotta say is: Is this an April Fools’ joke? After three years of campaigning, McDonald’s raises wages for less than 10% of their workers. Well, they are not fooling us,” Johnson said on Wednesday, hours after the McDonald’s announcement.
At the Los Angeles Times, business columnist Michael Hiltzik explained the economics of these pay raise announcements:
The buying power of the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour today, peaked in 1968, when it was nominally $1.60 an hour. That would be the equivalent of $10.88 today. If the minimum wage had kept pace merely with worker productivity since then, it would be more than $16.54 today. Try proposing a $16.54 minimum wage to the average fast-food franchisee today, and you’ll hear squealing from here to the Chicago stockyards.
It’s proper to note that McDonald’s is making improvements to benefits for workers. Full- and part-time employees at company-owned locations will be able to accrue paid time off. Workers for company-owned and franchised stores will have access to education programs that include tuition assistance for high school equivalency, college credits and English as a second language classes.
But the overall package highlights that franchising is just one of the ways that big American companies have devised to shed full responsibility for the people who work for them. They label them “independent contractors” and saddle them with expenses for everything from uniforms to gasoline.
They’re Not Loving It
Here’s Marjorie Wood at Inequality.Org:
The Fight for $15 group has made clear that McDonald’s announcement won’t slow them down. “Hey McDonald’s: we said $15 and a union for everybody. See you on April 15,” they tweeted in response. Another worker tweeted, “We are not a value menu. We’re worth more than a $1 raise.”
If McDonald’s thought this move would cause worker protests to get quieter, they miscalculated. Those demands are about to get super-sized.
Harold Meyerson at the Washington Post looked at the bigger picture:
But the prime mover behind these raises, whether company-specific or legislative, is the workers themselves. The campaigns of the fast-food workers, Wal-Mart employees and others have functioned as a kind of second act to the Occupy Wall Street movement, not just highlighting the enormous disparities of income and wealth in our society but also putting forth a concrete demand, as Occupy never did, to remedy some of inequality’s most remediable extremes…
…There are limits, however, to what this kind of organizing can achieve. A more egalitarian economy requires a more egalitarian balance of power — which is why the only time in U.S. economic history when a rising tide really did lift all boats was in the three decades following World War II, when unions were sufficiently large and powerful to compel even non-union employers to match their wage scales. States and cities can raise the minimum wage and the Wal-Marts and McDonald’s can hike their pay, but these moves, commendable though they be, don’t significantly alter the power imbalance hard-wired into our current economy. That still requires the legal ability to form unions — a goal that eludes workers in our plutocratic age.
Watch Out for the Double-Cross
When I’ve discussed the probable political campaign to get voters engaged for the city council’s minimum wage ordinance, slated for the June 2016 elections in San Diego, it’s been pointed out to me that the question could be moot should the state legislature pass one of several bills under consideration.
Assembly Bill 669 is a testament to the growing political acceptance of further increases in California’s minimum wage. Sponsored by the California Restaurant Association, it’s a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.
Democrat Assemblyman Tom Daly has been tapped to do the lobby’s bidding, with a bill accomplishing two industry objectives while appearing to be a good thing.
From Capital & Main:
Daly’s bill would cap the minimum wage for California’s tipped workers at $9 if they earn a total of $15 hourly. Far more disturbing to low-income service employees, however, is a passage embedded in the bill that could undo local minimum wage ordinances previously approved by voters in Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco and San Jose.
Those measures would be overturned unless they “specifically reference” the Daly bill’s language – an unlikelihood, given that the language of the local ordinances could not have anticipated the Daly measure. Specifically, the present bill states, “This bill would supersede local minimum wage laws unless the local law contains specified provisions” and:
“This section shall preempt local ordinances setting forth a minimum wage in excess of the minimum wage established by this subdivision, to the extent the ordinance is applicable to qualifying tipped employees, unless the ordinance specifically references this section and states the local jurisdiction’s intent to establish a higher minimum wage for qualifying tipped employees.”
“It’s a Restaurant Association sneak–what they really want is to preempt legislation,” says veteran labor attorney Margo Feinberg, who has crafted local wage legislation. “They don’t want to pay the cities’ minimum wages.”
San Diego’s Fight for Fifteen on 4/15
Locally organizers in the Fight for $15 are planning a full day of actions on Wednesday, April 15th.
Fast food workers from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s , Subway, Sonic, and Taco Bell will be taking a ‘day off.’ Security guards and janitors will participate in a mid-day downtown protest against an-as-yet-unnamed “bad employer.”
A community-based demonstration is planned for City Heights starting at 1:30 calling attention to the need to decriminalize the poor in addition to the pay demands. At 3pm a bus will leave from the Rosa Parks Park and Performance Annex headed for a city-wide convergence on the San Diego State University campus (map) starting at 4pm.
The rally at SDSU will include support for rolling back student fees and the start of a unionization drive of the 3000 low wage employees of the campus Aztec Shops. (More info)
DeMaio Takes to the Air
When former mayor Roger Hedgecock stepped down from his talk-radio gig a while back it left a huge right wing hole in the genre. This week we learned that former candidate Carl DeMaio is stepping up to fill the gap as co-host of an afternoon program on KOGO.
DeMaio’s promising “investigative reporting” as part of this package, which presumably means he’ll be denigrating government employees at every opportunity.
His other big project is a 2016 public pension cutting initiative proposed by former San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, targeting the retirement and health benefits for more than 1.6 million California public employees, retirees and their families.
According to an article at Capital & Main, this effort may be in trouble:
This time, however, Reed could find his campaign in danger from an unexpected source – conservative allies who might be worried that his initiative’s very presence on the ballot will draw huge numbers of liberal and union voters – who would then also vote against conservative candidates running for local and state office.
Fearing a repeat of 2012, when the voter turnout that soundly defeated the anti-labor Proposition 32 also gave Democrats supermajorities in both legislative houses, conservatives might balk at funding the expensive petition-gathering campaign needed to place Reed’s initiative on the ballot.
On This Day: 1968 – Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Memphis to stand with striking AFSCME sanitation workers. In the evening, he delivered his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in a church packed with union members and others. He was assassinated the following day.1989 – Pepsi dismissed Madonna as a spokesperson after her “Like a Prayer” video was called “blasphemous” by the Vatican. 1996 – Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski was arrested. He pled guilty in January 1998 to five Unabomber attacks in exchange for a life sentence without chance for parole.
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