Since around 2015, activists campaigning for minimum wage raises in the United States have used the popular Big Mac hamburger from fast food chain McDonald’s to refute the argument that adjusting workers’ wages does not necessarily have to mean that businesses should raise their prices to compensate.
The argument, often delivered via meme, is based on a comparison between the respective wages in the U.S., Australia, and France alongside the average cost of buying the burger in each country:
In February 2018, the “Fight for 15” labor movement, which advocates for raising the minimum wage for American workers to at least $15 an hour, released an updated version of the image on Twitter while also criticizing McDonald for underpaying workers:
McDonald’s can afford to pay a living wage. It does in other places, and hasn’t gone out of business or experienced skyrocketing prices. It’s greed, not need, that keeps their wages at the poverty level.
Fight for 15, which has campaigned for the company to both institute a minimum wage of $15 per hour across the board and allow workers to unionize, also noted that it based its Big Mac prices on the “Big Mac index,” a currency-comparison guide published by The Economist compiling average prices for the burger at McDonald’s locations in various countries to “make exchange-rate theory more digestible” for readers.
The group also based its findings on a Wikipedia page listing minimum wages in 193 countries.
However, a French government states on its web site that the country’s minimum wage is 9.88 Euro, equivalent to $11.71 U.S. dollars. For its part, the Australian government’s Fair Work Ombudsman states that the minimum wage there is $18.29 Australian, equivalent to $13.64 American dollars.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 29 states currently have minimum wages higher than the federal standard of $7.25 an hour. Web sites like Payscale.com and Glassdoor.com, which aggregate companies’ salary information, reported that the average salary for a McDonald’s employee is around $9 per hour. We contacted McDonald’s seeking comment, but the restaurant chain has yet to respond.
In April 2015, McDonald’s announced that it would implement a wage increase for 90,000 workers at its 1,500 company-owned restaurants in the U.S; the chain said that as of 1 July of that year, employees would earn at least $1 more than the local minimum wage. As a result, the company said, they would make an average of $10 an hour.
But three years later, Fight for 15 accused McDonald’s of lying to workers and released pay stubs showing that workers in eight different cities were making between 40 and 70 cents above their local minimum.
“The wage increase in 2015 — to be a $1 above the local minimum wage — was applicable to the local wages on July 1, 2015, but was not a policy thereafter,” the fast food chain said in a statement.