McDonald's employees in three states launched a class-action lawsuit Thursday against the fast food giant, seeking compensation for lost wages, forced work off the clock and even hours erased from their time cards.
McDonald's stock held strong Friday at nearly $100 per share, without so much as a budge when the class-action lawsuit went public (compared to the S&P 500). It further shows just how divorced corporate profits and stock prices can be from the experience of workers on the ground.
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The plight of fast-food workers is generally understood but continues to be criminally underreported. The median hourly wage for an American fast-food worker is $8.94. McDonald's makes about $5.5 billion in profits and has a market capitalization just over $96 billion. Since the average fast-food worker is 29 years old and receives some form of public assistance (welfare, food stamps, Medicaid or all of the above), we as taxpayers effectively pay for his or her benefits when companies like McDonald's should be footing the bill. The company's calculated bet on the obliviousness of taxpayers belies a deep faith in the power of their propaganda, or a deep ignorance of their employees' financial struggles. When it comes to bankrolling McDonald's vast fast-food empire, I'm not lovin' it.
There's already broad public support for a major shift in how our economy distributes profits. Seventy-six percent of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage. It would help combat a broader shift in our economy over the last few decades that's been deeply troubling.
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As the number of low-wage jobs skyrockets, income inequality strikes an increasingly uneven line between the haves and the have-nots. The National Employment Law Project found that the value of the minimum wage is 30% lower than it was in 1968, taking inflation and cost of living into account. The 50 largest employers of low-wage workers have overwhelmingly recovered from the recession, with 92% being profitable in 2011 and onwards. Consequently, 66% of low-wage workers are employed by large corporations with at least 100 employees, which defies Republican and Libertarian logic that raising the minimum wage will be predominately harmful to small businesses.
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McDonald's manages to make huge amounts of money while forcing individual franchises to operate on a razor-thin budget, undermining support for wage increases while supplementing the income and bonuses of corporate executives. It's a brilliant scheme, but Thursday's momentous lawsuit alleging wage theft puts things in perspective.
When annual profits for U.S. corporations total $1.97 trillion at the same time that 58.5% of Americans are bound to live below the poverty line between the ages of 25 and 75, there is something deeply wrong with the status quo.
More than 50 million Americans currently live in poverty, and that figure grows every day. If the rich and powerful allow this frustration to bubble under the surface without appeasing average Americans, bigger changes than a cash settlement or even a higher minimum wage could be the result.
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Throughout history, the wealthy have led their lives in a protective bubble as workers became more and more disenfranchised, angry and militant. The American Revolution (1765), the French Revolution (1789), the Russian Revolution (1905), the Chinese Civil War (1945) and countless other upheavals throughout history have been instigated by an economic underclass fighting back against the obliviousness of the privileged. The fact that McDonald's stock has held strong is either a symbol of the historical ignorance of the investor class or a challenge to McDonald's employees and exploited workers around the globe.
Similarly, the stock market exists within a figurative bubble, cut off from the real America. Libertarians and Republicans can cite all the misguided studies they want, but working people are sick and tired of hearing about record bonuses on Wall Street while they struggle to educate their kids and put food on the table.
For those of us with experience with the tough reality outside the bubble of stock indexes and boardroom supposition, we should be glad to see fast food workers fight back. This lawsuit is important in the greater fight for a living wage, and I hope the plaintiffs recover their stolen earnings. Remember that without these minimum-wage employees, massively profitable companies like McDonald's would never be able to function, let alone thrive.
Let's meet this challenge and show the fast-food syndicate exactly who they owe their success to, success worth far more than $7.25 an hour.