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McDonald's now OK with raising the minimum wage

Wall Street bonuses outpace minimum wage

In a breakthrough for the nationwide campaign to increase minimum wages, McDonald's will no longer take part in lobbying against pay hikes at the local, state or federal level. The fast-food giant's shift comes as Democrats in the House advance a proposal to increase the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, unchanged since 2009.

McDonald's announced its decision in a letter to the National Restaurant Association, the industry trade group that has long has the fast-food chain at its side in opposing any moves that would hike labor costs for its members. First reported by Politico, a source close to the matter confirmed the letter's contents to CBS MoneyWatch.

"The conversation about wages is an important one; it's one we wish to advance, not impede," Genna Gent, McDonald's vice president of government relations, wrote Tuesday in the letter. "We believe increases should be phased in and that all industries should be treated the same way."

The average starting pay at corporate-owned McDonald's stores already exceeds $10 an hour, and while McDonald's doesn't control what its franchisees pay their employees, "we believe the average starting wage offered by these independent business owners is likely similar," Gent told the NRA.

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McDonald's in the past touted its role as "America's best first job," projecting an image of an industry staffed by teenagers working part-time while attending high school. In fact, the average age of all workers in the food preparation and food serving fields was 29.8 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. 

In an emailed response, the NRA stated: "Our members are as diverse as the communities they serve, and the economies of every region are different."

McDonald's in recent years has contended with demands for increased pay from the union-backed "Fight for $15" campaign. It said in 2015 it would hike wages at company-owned stores in the U.S. by at least a buck above the minimum wage, but three years later clarified that the hike was a one-shot move and not intended to be its policy into the future.  

The move by McDonald's comes as it remains enmeshed in a National Labor Relations Board suit over alleged conduct by its franchises, accused of punishing some workers who took part in Fight for $15 protests.

Unions supporting Fight for $15 cheered McDonald's move, while vowing to continue pushing the chain.

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"By sticking together and taking action on the job, courageous workers in the Fight for $15 and a union have forced McDonald's – the second-biggest employer in the world – to drop its relentless opposition to higher pay," SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. "Now, McDonald's needs to use its profits and power to give thousands of cooks and cashiers across the country a real shot at the middle class by raising pay to $15 an hour and respecting its workers' right to a union."

Since the Fight for $15 began with fast-food workers protesting in New York City in 2012, companies including Amazon, Target, Costco and Walt Disney have targeted $15 as a minimum hourly rate.