McDonald's, $1 an hour raise is not enough

Story highlights

  • William Barber: McDonald's will raise minimum wage $1 for 10% of workers. This is a step in right direction but falls short in three ways
  • He says it leaves out 90% of workers, is not enough to lift workers from poverty, company prevents workers from speaking out in a union

The Rev. William Barber II is the president of the North Carolina NAACP, and convener of the Moral Mondays Movement, a grass-roots movement for racial and economic justice. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)In this Holy Week, let us be reminded of what the word of God says about fair and living wages.

Isaiah 58.6 tells us:
This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
    William Barber
    The McDonald's announcement that the company is going to raise wages for 90,000 of its employees is a significant victory for fast-food cooks and cashiers and those of us who support them. By standing up together, fast-food workers are making it less acceptable for profitable companies like McDonald's to pay wages so low that its workers are boxed into poverty.
    But this action, which would raise starting wages at 1,500 McDonald's-owned restaurants to at least $1 an hour more than the minimum wage set by local law, falls short in three important ways
    First, it leaves out the vast majority of McDonald's workers. The announcement only affects 10% of the McDonald's restaurants in the United States, ignoring the employees who work at franchised McDonald's restaurants. That means hundreds of thousands of workers serving Big Macs and fries won't see a dollar more in their paychecks. McDonald's claims that it has no responsibility for those franchises, but its workers, and the National Labor Relations Board, disagree.
    Secondly, this raise isn't nearly enough. One dollar above the minimum wage isn't enough to make paying for groceries, rent and transportation much easier, especially coming from a company that makes nearly $5 billion a year in profits. It's not enough for clothing or health care. It's not enough, as people of my faith say, for those cooks and cashiers to afford their daily bread.
    Thirdly, the raise does nothing to help workers have a voice in determining their workplace conditions. McDonald's and other companies need to stop trying to prevent their workers from speaking out together in a union. They should respect workers' right to collectively demand sensible schedules and such basics as adequate first aid kits, and not being compelled to work off the clock.
    We are at a turning point in American history. We are at a Third Reconstruction. We are at the moment when forces come together to push this country forward toward the goal of a better life for all: sustainable wages, affordable health care, quality education, and, respect for workers' right to stick together in unions so they can be heard.
    We are wining this fight, and the McDonald's announcement is proof that the momentum is on our side.
    When all McDonald's workers have more money in their pockets, they will inject money back into their neighborhoods, boosting the entire economy. Instead of houses in foreclosure and hungry children, we would have a rising wage floor and thriving communities that support more jobs.
    Today, thousands of McDonald's workers live below the federal poverty line. Many get help from government programs, especially food stamps, to make it week to week. Whether we like it or not, our tax dollars help McDonald's keep wages artificially low.
    This isn't just an economic issue. It's a moral issue. I've talked to workers at McDonald's restaurants who say they have to skip meals because they don't have enough money. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can't afford to buy a hamburger?" It's time for McDonald's to make sure all the people who serve its burgers are paid enough to afford to eat them for dinner.
    But we aren't going to wait for divine intervention. We're going to keep organizing and keep fighting until the workers at McDonald's, and every other fast-food restaurant, get what makes sense for their families and our communities: a $15 per hour wage and a path to form a union without interference or retaliation.
    McDonald's took a small step forward by raising wages for a small minority of the people who run their stores. It's time for the corporation to find a way to raise wages for everyone working in its restaurants so they can pay their bills, put some money back into their community, and expand prosperity and opportunity across our land.