When Wal-Mart announced in February it would raise wages for employees to $10/hour by next year, initial reaction was positive. After years of hard work and protest, workers had finally budged the world’s largest corporation. Slowly, though, word got around that this is still not high enough and groups like Our Walmart are still pushing for $15/hour and progressive legislators are pushing for at least $12/hour as a federal minimum.
Now that McDonald’s has gotten around to announcing an increase to $10/hour, skepticism is even higher. As the Economic Policy institute points out, “the fact that a $1.00 raise for 90,000 workers is headline news is evidence of how low the bar has been set.” This will still be a poverty wage for most employees and even at that, only the 20% of employees who work directly for McDonald’s and not a franchise location will benefit.
What is really going on here? Workers have clearly had enough of low wages and are gaining momentum both in congress and in the picket lines. To stay ahead of the game, big corporations are throwing a little crumb along with some big press releases. The proposed wage increases are easily covered with inflation, since wages have been otherwise stagnant for decades.
The long game for corporations is to position themselves to make the claim that we do not need to raise the minimum wage at the federal level since they are “doing the right thing” in the course of business. But workers who know that $10/hour is not enough and their allies will not be fooled. We need more corporations to pay an actual living wage and we need a higher minimum wage to keep accountable those corporations who won’t do it on their own.