McDonald’s recently conducted an interesting experiment in pseudo-transparency. It invited consumers to ask questions about its food, some–like “Pink slime: What’s up with that?” and “What’s in a Chicken McNugget?”–with the potential for horrifying results. But a slick ad campaign, with answers in the form of behind-the-scenes videos starring a former Mythbusters host, is by definition never going to result in an expose. Nor is it going to convert anyone who is not wont to eat at the chain to start.
The transparency was further limited–its willingness to answer questions didn’t extend to the topic of the workers that prepare its food. In a YouTube video of its own, the Fight For $15 campaign, which is working to organizer fast food workers to demand a livable wage of $15 an hour, showed McDonald’s ignoring people’s many attempts to ask about worker wages.
As the Fight for $15 video points out, it’s not that McDonald’s was simply too swamped. Its social media accounts took the time to address probing queries ranging from the mundane–“What’s 9+10?”–to the macabre, like whether the company would ever serve “human meat.” But when people posed questions like: “When will you start paying your workers a livable wage?” they got only crickets in reply.
This isn’t a big surprise. Protesters have raised these questions in much more direct ways already. For more than two years, organizers have staged walkouts at fast food locations around the country, with the latest one-day action taking place across 190 cities in December. Today minimum wage is laughably low in most states, and the fast food industry is among the biggest minimum wage employers in the nation. One study found that just over half of the industry’s workers are enrolled in at least one public assistance program, according to a New Yorker profile of the new labor movement. (A common response from the industry is that if it raises wages, they will be forced to lay-off workers. Though this is debatable.)
While there are few signs that McDonald’s or the rest of the industry is ready to raise the wage of its lowest-paid employees, the fast food workers’ campaigns are gaining traction in other circles. Seattle and San Francisco recently passed legislation to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour over several years, and other cities could follow. Soon, McDonald’s locations in at least some cities will have to listen.