McDonald's, Nixon and the minimum wage

Back in the days when I worked part-time or summer jobs such as hot dog vendor, library clerk and shoe salesman, I remember being outraged upon learning that McDonald's Corp. had showered President Richard Nixon with campaign donations to persuade him not to raise the minimum wage. As Bloomberg News reports in this excellent piece on two McDonald's employees - Tyree Johnson, who works in two Chicago location, and Jim Skinner, who served as chief executive officer - not much has changed. Leslie Patton reported:

Fast-food restaurants have added positions more than twice as fast as the U.S. average during the recovery that began in June 2009. The jobs created by companies including Burger King Worldwide Inc. and Yum (YUM)! Brands Inc., which owns the Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC brands, are among the lowest-paid in the U.S. -- except in the C suite.The pay gap separating fast-food workers from their chief executive officers is growing at each of those companies. The disparity has doubled at McDonalds Corp. in the last 10 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. At the same time, the company helped pay for lobbying against minimum-wage increases and sought to quash the kind of unionization efforts that erupted recently on the streets of Chicago and New York.

The story provides a portrait of Tyree Johnson, who earns $8.25 an hour, the minimum wage in Illinois. He has worked for McDonald's for 20 years. "Johnson would need about a million hours of work -- or more than a century on the clock -- to earn the $8.75 million that McDonalds, based in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, paid then-CEO Jim Skinner last year," Bloomberg News reported.The story, which ran Dec. 12 (and which I later learned about when the writer received an award from the Sidney Hillman Foundation), demonstrates that the minimum wage deserves to be a much larger issue than it has been on the political landscape. Basic fairness calls for it.The minimum wage I received as a 17-year-old serving hot dogs at a beach in the Rockaways during the Nixon administration was worth 15 percent more, adjusted for inflation, than the $8.25 an hour Illinois minimum wage that Chicagoan Tyree Johnson receives for flipping burgers - and 30 percent more than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

Also by this author
A Turning Point on Sex-Abuse?

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Politics
Religion
Books
Collections