Super Sized Retraction: McDonald's CEO Says Company Supports Minimum Wage Hike, Spokesperson Begs to Differ

Times Square McDonald's photo by Vacacion, via FlickrMcDonald's supports a minimum wage hike (at least according to a headline on Huffington Post):

McDonald's CEO: 'We Will Support' A Minimum Wage Hike

Here is the a piece of the story:

McDonald's CEO Don Thompson recently suggested his company would support a bill, proposed by President Barack Obama, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25. Such a wage hike likely wouldn't satisfy his workers, some of whom recently stormed the company's Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters demanding $15 an hour. But it would be a noticeable shift in attitude for the world's biggest restaurant chain, which has so far been neutral as the debate about higher wages has roiled around it.

"You know, our franchisees look at me when I say this and they start to worry: 'Don, don't you say it. Don't you say we support $10.10,'" Thompson said during a little-noticed talk at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management last month, according to a Chicago Tribune report. "I will tell you we will support legislation that moves forward."

So, McDonald's has come around — or maybe not quite. The HuffPo story is loaded with what I'll call "qualifying language," as the writer says Thompson "suggested his company would support a bill" but alludes to a potential disagreement with franchisees who are the ones who will have to pay the wage. This qualifying language is important, as the Tribune report makes clear. The Tribune — in the form of a business column by Phil Rosenthal — writes that Thompson, "in a less combative forum" at the Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, told students that McDonald's "could handle a theoretical bump in the minimum wage to, say, $10.10 an hour, the figure supported by President Barack Obama and others."

"McDonald's will be fine," Thompson said in the May 12 discussion. "We'll manage through whatever the additional cost implications are."

Rosenthal goes on to explain what the Huffington Post only alludes to — that Thompson was not offering corporate policy, that corporate policy may not matter and that all Thompson was actually saying was that he thought a wage hike was inevitable:

"I want to make it clear I'm not here to give any corporate answers," Thompson said at Kellogg, which streamed his talk online. "You all get a chance to talk to Don, not the CEO…I understand that CEO is attached to my name. But when I give an answer, it's the truth."

Those truths, as he laid them out, were: Minimum wages will go up over time. McDonald's, which he said doesn't consider itself a minimum-wage employer, will pay whatever the law and market forces require it to pay. Some decisions on matters such as pay are made not at the corporate level, but by the company's franchisees, generally small-business owners, that he said control roughly 90 percent of the company's U.S. restaurants.

So, is McDonald's supporting a minimum wage hike? Read to the end of the HuffPo story and you find this late addition — a McDonald's spokesperson walking back the CEO's comments:

What Don Thompson said at Kellogg reflects our existing position on this important and evolving issue: an increase in the minimum wage would primarily affect McDonald's independent franchisees, who would have to factor into their business models the additional expenses and the potential impact on prices and hiring decisions. As such, McDonald’s, and our independent franchisees, believe that any increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on small and medium business owners is manageable. Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of “full time” employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses owners.”

I guess you have your answer. Or not.

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