“We continue to believe that we pay fair and competitive wages,” stated Don Thompson, McDonald’s CEO, in an annual meeting with shareholders at corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois on Thursday.
While Thompson reported that shareholders received $4.9 billion in returns in 2013, over 2,000 low-wage McDonald’s workers protested outside for a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize, resulting in over 100 arrests.
“We provide job opportunities and training for those entering the workforce,” Thompson added, bringing up McDonald’s Chief Operating Officer Tim Fenton as an example, who started as a crew member in 1973 and is planning to retire later this year.
The facts tell a different story. The average annual salary for fast-food workers is $18,880, putting a family of three below the poverty line. Glassdoor reports that McDonald’s cashiers and “team members” average hourly pay of around $7.75.
Meanwhile, a 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project found that nearly 90 percent of fast food employees, or 3.6 million Americans, hold low wage, non-technical and non-managerial positions. In the general economy, in which managerial or professional positions make up about a third of all jobs, low-paying, entry-level jobs can realistically lead to better paying positions, as there is more room for upward mobility. However, the skewed ratio of low-level workers to managers and executives within the fast food industry means the chances of moving up the ladder for an entry-level employee are slim.
While industry lobbyists, such as Andrew Moesel of the New York Restaurant Association, have publicly argued that teens largely make fast food workers earning low wages, a study from the Center for Economic Policy and Research proves that the majority of fast food workers are adults between the ages of 25 and 54, many of whom support families.
Even the low wages these workers are promised don’t always materialize. A recent study on the fast food industry in New York City reports that up to 84 percent of workers have experienced wage theft through being forced to work off the books or work overtime with no pay.
Will Freeman is an intern with Think Progress.