Thursday, April 2, 2015

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE, April 1 (Reuters) – Seattle’s new minimum wage law took effect on Wednesday amid mixed reaction from businesses, giving some workers a bump in compensation on the way to a $ 15 hourly wage, among the highest big-city pay floors in the United States.

Seattle became the first major U.S. city to commit to such a high basic wage when Mayor Ed Murray proposed the plan last May. The move has since been followed to varying degrees by other cities such as San Francisco, as labor groups and workers pressure retailers and fast-food companies to pay a “living wage.”

“Today Seattle gets a raise. When our $ 15 minimum wage is fully phased in, more than 100,000 workers across the city will benefit,” Murray said in a statement.

The city’s minimum wage will be phased in over the next decade, and depends on a business’s size and whether it provides healthcare benefits. After $ 15, annual rises are tied to cost-of-living changes.

This week, workers at large businesses and national chains will see a first-step hike to $ 11 per hour, while those working for small companies will get at least $ 10 plus $ 1 in tips or medical-benefit plan payments.

The ordinance has seen mixed responses from business, and the agency created to oversee compliance has yet to hire a permanent director or post positions for three investigators.

Local seafood chain Ivar’s and a Seattle grocery co-operative said they would pay employees $ 15 per hour before the ordinance took effect. The University of Washington, the city’s largest employer, said it would bring 70 employees who earn less than $ 11 an hour to that level on April 1.

The university has said it was in a legal gray area when language exempting government entities from the law was removed.

The state’s Supreme Court is currently weighing whether a $ 15 minimum-wage law for some workers passed by the city of SeaTac in 2013 applies to pay levels at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is owned and operated by the Port of Seattle, a government entity.

The ordinance survived a legal challenge last month brought by an industry group.

Some 29 states and Washington, D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum of $ 7.25, and 10 states enacted increases in 2014.

The Washington state House voted last month to raise the state’s $ 9.47 minimum wage, already the nation’s highest, to $ 12 per hour over four years. The bill had a Senate committee hearing on March 30. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)

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McDonald’s is finally giving some of its workers a raise.

The fast-food giant on Wednesday announced plans to give employees a 10-percent pay bump and some extra benefits.

The raise will affect about 90,000 workers at a small fraction of McDonald’s stores. Employees at franchises, which make up the majority of the burger chain’s locations, won’t be affected.

The increase will lift the average hourly wage at McDonald’s to $ 9.90, and to more than $ 10 by the end of next year. The rate currently sits at $ 9.01, according to the Wall Street Journal.

McDonald’s will also let workers at non-franchised locations who have been with the company for more than a year earn up to five days of paid time off each year. Additionally, the company will pay for workers to earn a high school diploma and offer some college tuition assistance. Franchise workers will have access to the educational perks, but not the paid time off.

“We’ve been working on a comprehensive benefits package for our employees — the people who bring our brand to life for customers every day in our U.S. restaurants,” CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement. “We’ve listened to our employees and learned that — in addition to increased wages — paid personal leave and financial assistance for completing their education would make a real different in their careers and lives.”

McDonald’s did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The move comes two weeks ahead of a planned international strike organized by the movement Fight for $ 15, which urges fast-food employers to pay workers a minimum wage of $ 15 per hour.

The group condemned McDonald’s announcement as a “weak move for a company that made $ 5.6 billion in profits last year.”

“This is too little to make a real difference, and only covers a fraction of workers,” Kwanza Brooks, a McDonald’s employee earning $ 7.25 per hour in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in a statement. “We’re going to keep fighting until we win $ 15 and union rights for all fast-food workers and our families.”

McDonald’s joins a growing list of low-wage employers, including Walmart and Target, that have raised wages in recent months. Labor advocates point out that wages of $ 9 or $ 10 an hour, though well above the national minimum wage of $ 7.25, are still not enough to pull many families out of poverty.

The raise also marks the latest step by McDonald’s to revitalize its ailing brand amid slumping sales. The company kicked off an aggressive campaign last October to present its food as authentic, going as far as to tout the fact that its meals can, in fact, rot. In January, McDonald’s said it would cut more items from its menu as it tries to slim down options. Last month, the chain said it would eliminate human antibiotics from its chicken supply.
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