The Golden Arches Stand Down in the Fight for $15

Shutterstock | Jason Ogulnik

“Ultimately, progress must come from all corners of society.”

Those words came from an unlikely source on Tuesday, when Genna Gent, Vice President of Government Relations for McDonald’s, sent a letter to the National Restaurant Association announcing that the fast-food behemoth would no longer lobby against minimum wage increases at federal, state, or local levels. Instead, she said, the company would move to “advance – not impede” the conversation to increase the wage nationwide.

Gent is right. In our current system, money talks, and Congress listens. However unfairly, a corporate buy-in to the minimum wage movement will help secure political support for it more rapidly than grassroots organizing could achieve on its own.

Still, this decision by McDonald’s is a huge win for the countless workers and organizers that have been fighting for better wages, and hopefully a sign of things to come.  Such a drastic change from a company that employs millions of minimum wage-level workers could herald the beginning of the end of corporate opposition to raising the minimum wage.

McDonald’s is the second-largest private employer in the world, and in the US, its deep pockets and status as an American icon have allowed it to launch one of the most powerful lobbying efforts against wage increases.

That effort included a multi-million dollar anti-wage hike partnership with the National Restaurant Association, the nation’s largest food-service lobbying organization. Gent’s letter formally ended that partnership, in addition to McDonald’s own lobbying efforts against raise hikes. With the loss of its largest and most powerful member, it’s entirely likely that the Association could see an exodus of corporations from this campaign as members sense the tide turning.

Hopefully, more companies will start to see the truth: that raising the minimum wage is better for business. With more money in their pockets, millions of minimum-wage workers can afford to spend more in their everyday lives, like treating their kids to a trip to McDonald’s. A higher minimum wage isn’t just a win for workers, it’s a win for businesses too.

It’s important to note, however, that there are limits to this victory. While Gent’s letter expressed support for wage increases to be “phased in and all industries treated the same way,” it’s unclear how much of an increase McDonald’s would actually favor. There’s no explicit mention of a $15 minimum wage, and there’s no guarantee to give it’s 300,000-odd workers a pay raise.

So, the fight isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot. But that’s no reason not to celebrate a hard-fought, meaningful first step.

This is how change happens. The fight for $15 has a long way to go, but the pressure on both lawmakers and businesses like McDonald’s to get on board is building. The fact that one of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful corporations in the country felt it was necessary to abruptly end its six-year effort to fight its own workers is a testament to the momentum behind this issue. What seemed like a far-fetched dream just a few years ago is inching closer and closer to becoming an inevitability. And with one more powerful opponent switching sides this week, $15 is looking closer than ever.

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