For McDonald's ( MCD ) and Visa ( V ) , what may have been a well-intentioned online financial education tool for McDonald's employees has provoked outrage and satire, just as the fast food company is coming under pressure to raise wages.
The so-called Practical Money Skills Budget Journal , a downloadable financial management guide dating back to 2010, has been met with ridicule since it was discovered by writers at Slate and ThinkProgress earlier this month.
With waves of fast food employees striking across the nation since last fall, asking for wages of $15 per hour, rather than the industry standard of minimum wage, the educational efforts of McDonald's do little more than highlight the fact that its employees likely can't survive off of one job alone.
Given the recent media uproar, low-wage workers in New York City , Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee , St. Louis, Flint, and Kansas City will have plenty of ammunition to work with when they abandon their posts on July 29 in the continued push against unfair employment practices, though the legitimacy of these strikes is questioned by some.
"The negative reaction to McDonald's sample budget and the recent strike activity are mostly media events. The majority of the people participating in the protests are activists paid by the unions to be there," Phillip Wilson, president of the Labor Relations Institute, a consulting firm that helps companies bust unions, tells Minyanville.
Here's the actual budget sample as it appeared on the McDonald's Practical Money Skills Site Budget Journal prior to a hasty edit on July 16 by McDonald's:
The edited budget allots $50 rather than $0 to heating, but curiously enough, the Spanish-language sample only allots $30 to heating. Payments for groceries, gas, clothing, and possible childcare expenses are also not accounted for.
With a $20 cap for health insurance, an implied reality that a McDonald's employee should be working two jobs to get by, and a downright insulting informational video reminder that by not buying a $1 snack every day for 365 days, savings amount to $365, the jokes almost write themselves.
Stephen Colbert, the host of The Colbert Report , jumped at the opportunity to poke fun at the company's blunder. On his show Monday, he hunched over a calculator and mumbled as he confirmed the budget's math.
"I've said it before -- 'minimum' is a misnomer," he quipped. "$7.25? I can think of wages a lot lower: $3.28, $1.19, a pat on the back, and a handful of mints."
Click below to watch Colbert's seven-minute thrashing of McDonald's and its "McNuggets of McWisdom."
To make matters worse, on the same site as the budget information is a discussion of the "benefits" of McDonald's paying employees via special Visa debit cards , rather than paper checks.
The Golden Arches flaunts the easy accessibility of cash on a PayCHEK Plus! card and the ease with which employees can be paid instantly without without coming in to the restaurant to pick up a check. McDonald's has been offering the cards as a payment option since 2012 and in most locations, but a recent lawsuit suggests that this payment method harms employees.
The Visa paycards used to compensate employees charge $1.75 withdrawal fees, $0.75 to check the account balance, and $5-per-month inactivity fees, all further cutting into the already sparse income of McDonald's workers.
It may be easier to digest this kind of information when it's delivered in a humorous form, but fortunately, any kind of coverage means additional exposure for the troubled fast food employee. Marriage equality and marijuana legalization are just some topics seeing legal progress thanks in part to the buzz created by their constant presence in the news. The momentum of nationwide strikes could make minimum wage the next major issue to receive public attention and support.
Although headlines across the Internet point solely to McDonald's due to the need for specificity, employees at Burger King ( BKW ), Wendy's ( WEN ), Yum Brands ( YUM ) restaurants, and even fast-casual chains like Chipotle (CMG) are in similarly dire financial situations.
"The truth is, millions of fast food workers will never have an opportunity to move beyond front line jobs. That's why it's so critical that instead of empty promises of future possibilities, the industry acts to ensure that the jobs most fast food workers occupy provide the wages and benefits workers need to support themselves and their families," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in a statement.
Minimum wage is, admittedly, part of the reason that fast food companies are able to branch out on a massive scale. Additionally, given the high supply of willing workers for the relatively low-skilled positions, there is little economic incentive for the companies to raise wages.
Should employees manage to secure higher wages, fast food chains will need to adopt a new strategy for minimizing costs.
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