McDonald’s Sues Seattle Over $15 Minimum Wage, Cites Fourteenth Amendment

McDonald’s is not having a very good week. First, McDonald’s asked the band Ex Cops to play a gig at the McDonald’s SXSW Showcase, using the words “There isn’t a budget for an artist fee (unfortunately).” Then, just as the furor of McDonald’s asking artists to play for exposure — “as well as POSSIBLY mentioned on McDonald’s social media accounts like Facebook (57MM likes!)” — is dying down, we get this:

Last summer, the City of Seattle passed a law that will raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. But in a bizarre twist, Ronald McDonald and friends are suing the city. On March 10, they’ll be in a federal courtroom, complaining that the new minimum wage violates a constitutional provision that was written to protect newly-freed slaves after the Civil War.

That’s from the Huffington Post, which I read yesterday when Boing Boing linked to the story. As the HuffPo notes, this lawsuit is based on a very loose interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment:

That amendment was passed in 1866 to ensure equal rights for the freed slaves, and it says that no state may “deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws.” According to the Hamburglar, treating a franchised business differently from a local business violates this Equal Protection Clause.

This is what happens when we let corporations think they’re people. They take one of our noblest political statements — No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws — and they interpret it to mean that they do not have to pay their workers $15 an hour.

After all, if certain types of Seattle small businesses are temporarily exempt from the minimum wage increase (at least until 2021, when all Seattle employers are required to pay $15 an hour), all businesses should be temporarily exempt, because businesses are people and people are required to be equal under the law. It says so right there in the Fourteenth Amendment.

This story is in the news because McDonald’s and the International Franchise Association are taking this case to court today. However, the lawsuit has actually been building since last summer, when Seattle passed its minimum wage hike and the International Franchise Association responded by suing the City of Seattle. As Fortune explains:

Shortly after [Seattle Mayor Ed Murray] signed the ordinance into law, lawyer Paul Clement sued the city of Seattle on behalf of the International Franchise Association, which claimed that the $15 per hour law will irreparably harm franchisees and put them at a competitive disadvantage. The lawsuit, which was filed in Seattle federal court, takes aim at the provision of the minimum wage law that treats hotel and fast food franchises differently than other small, local businesses simply because they’re associated with big corporations. As it stands now, franchisees must adopt the $15 minimum wage within three years — the same time frame required of large employers. Other small businesses, meanwhile, have seven years to reach the $15 per hour threshold.

In a motion for preliminary injunction that Clement filed earlier this month, he argues that the ordinance violates the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Its “discriminatory” nature, the filing says, “crosses the constitutional line.”

That’s exactly what I think of when I think of the word “discrimination.” Gargantuan fast-food and hotel chains arguing that they don’t have enough money to pay a $15 minimum wage, and that they should be treated the same as smaller businesses. We have been discriminating against those big companies for so many years, systematically making sure they don’t get a fair shot at making a profit. They’ve had very little opportunity to promote themselves or claim market share, because of our continued and constant discrimination.

I’ll let you know as soon as we hear any kind of verdict — but I bet if the International Franchise Association loses, they’ll appeal. Maybe even up to the Supreme Court. Anything to put off paying workers $15 an hour for four more years.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart

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