But the announcement was also greeted with some skepticism. An expert on restaurant lobbying who requested anonymity because of McDonald’s power in the industry said the chain’s repositioning appeared to be at least in part a political publicity stunt. More than 90 percent of McDonald’s restaurants worldwide are owned and operated by independent franchisees, according to the company’s website. It is those franchisees, not McDonald’s Corp.’s bottom line, that the expert worried could be most affected.
Officials with the National Owners Association, an independent advocacy group of McDonald’s franchisees, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. A spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it would not comment “on individual company decisions.”
The National Restaurant Association has argued that only a small fraction of food service workers earn the federal minimum wage, and that most get a raise within six months.
“The National Restaurant Association is the largest food service trade association in the world, representing every aspect of the industry,” the association said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our members are as diverse as the communities they serve, and the economies of every region are different.” McDonald’s, the association added, is “a valued member.”
In her letter, which was first reported by Politico, Ms. Gent, the McDonald’s vice president, said the average starting wage in the company’s corporate-owned stores is already more than $10 per hour, above the federal minimum set a decade ago. Though the company does not control the wages franchisees pay their employees, she said the average starting wages for those workers were “likely similar.”
“We recognize that overall wages reflect the realities of different communities and that elected leaders have the responsibility to set, debate and change mandated minimum wages,” the letter said.
Terrence Wise, a McDonald’s worker in Kansas City and a leader of the Fight for $15 campaign, said its fight would continue even after the announcement.
Workers have long called both for a $15 minimum wage and union rights, he said, “and we’re not going to stop marching, speaking out and striking until we win both.”