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McDonald's raises don't apply to everyone

Roderick Livingston of St. Petersburg protests Thursday in front of the McDonald’s on N Dale Mabry Highway near Interstate 275. Livingston and about 25 other protesters were demonstrating for wage increases for all McDonald’s workers.
Published Apr. 2, 2015

Like a Big Mac slathered with too much special sauce, McDonald's is a hot mess these days.

On Wednesday, the financially struggling restaurant chain — in the midst of testing menu reinvention to boost plunging revenue — announced it would raise wages and offer new benefits for 90,000 employees in its 1,500 or so company-owned stores across the United States.

That follows the recent pattern of such powerful national retailers as Walmart and Target that have tried to quell shaky relations with staff — and even shakier press — by improving pay and workplace conditions.

In July, McDonald's will pay U.S. workers at company-owned stores at least a dollar more than the local minimum wage. The average will be $9.90 an hour.

"We know that a motivated workforce leads to better customer service, so we believe this initial step not only benefits our employees, it will improve McDonald's restaurant experience," said CEO Steve Easterbrook in a statement.

Good news, right?

Alas, here's the pickle:

The wage hike affects just a fraction of Mickey D's nationwide. Thus, in trying to make a few people happy, McDonald's ticked a lot of people off.

There are more than 750,000 McDonald's workers in more than 12,500 national outlets owned and operated by franchisees — and this raise doesn't affect those restaurants at all. That led to protests on Thursday, including some in Tampa Bay.

And you better believe bigger and louder protests are coming.

On April 15, at Copeland Park at the University of South Florida, the Service Employees International Union will stage a "Fight for $15" rally. "It's time for McDonald's and billionaire corporations like them to pay workers enough to support their families," the group said in a statement on its website. "It's time for $15 an hour and union rights."

Also, the National Labor Relations Board is set to investigate violations at various McDonald's franchises, as a nationwide crackdown on poor workplace conditions is getting hotter.

But it might not be just McDonald's employees in charge of making your Filet-O-Fish who are irked by the company's news this week. The wage hike puts franchise owners and operators in a tricky position as well. After all, business is down — by as much as 4 percent in February, one of the worst performances among large publicly traded restaurants.

The chain is losing money. The menu is being revamped, including the testing of a new Create Your Taste campaign, in which customers can jack up a Quarter Pounder with fancy ingredients. And now workers at noncorporate stores are going to be wondering the same thing:

Where's our raises?

I'm hearing that many Golden Arches franchisees were surprised by the news and that national does what national wants, often leaving the locals in the dark.

Talk about a hot fried potato.

In terms of the McDonald's stores in Tampa Bay that are owned and operated individually, they have to adhere to Florida minimum wage: $7.93 an hour. But after that, they are allowed to pay what they want and offer the programs they choose. Business models differ at each location. Sometimes you have a good boss. Sometimes you don't.

Calls and requests to two of the area's more prominent franchisees were not returned. In another case, I was forwarded to FKQ Advertising + Marketing, which represents 200 McDonald's stores across 13 Florida counties. They, too, were still processing the information from national.

Like I said: a hot mess.

Wipe your chin, Mickey D's. And you better do it soon.

Contact Sean Daly at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife.

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