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Chick-fil-A store owner raises minimum wage to $17 an hour "living wage"

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The owner of a Chick-fil-A location in Sacramento, California, calls it a "living wage." In Eric Mason's view, that would be $17 or $18 an hour, which is what he vows he'll be paying his workers, starting Monday, June 4. The rate represents a sizable increase for employees now making $12 to $13 an hour. 

"As the owner, I'm looking at it big-picture and long-term," Mason told a local news station. "What that does for the business is provide consistency, someone that has relationships with our guests, and it's going to be building a long-term culture."

The idea, Mason said, is to hire workers -- he prefers "hospitality professionals" -- who will stick around, a worthwhile goal for a brand known for its customer service that's in an industry that had a 73 percent turnover rate in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

"What we are going to be looking for is people trying to raise families," Mason said. "Maybe they can work just one job."

The median hourly pay for fast-food employees in the U.S. is $8.26, according to PayScale, with many making ends meet by working multiple jobs or even relying on public assistance. 

Mason's new gold standard at his Chick-fil-A store comes in a state where the minimum wage is currently $11 for businesses with more than 25 workers -- and will increase a buck a year until it hits $15 by 2022.

As union-led protests that came to be known as the "Fight for $15" were sweeping the nation in 2015, McDonald's said it would set starting pay for 90,000 workers at company-owned stores at one dollar above the minimum wage. Yet the fast-food giant didn't keep pace with local wages, and recently said it never intended the increase to be "a policy thereafter." 

There are more than 2,200 Chick-fil-A restaurants across the U.S., most of them owned by franchisees. A Chik-fil-A spokesman noted that Mason's $17 to $18 an hour wage floor was his call, not the company's. 

"Chick-fil-A restaurants are individually owned and operated, so wage decisions are made at the local level," the spokesman said, adding that "many of our owner/operators began their careers as hourly team members."

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