Celebrity Defends McDonalds’ Low-Skill, Low-Wage Jobs

Published May 13, 2015

While McDonalds is vilified by the $15 minimum wage movement as the poster child for corporate greed and worker exploitation, one famous actor has a different perspective.

Last week actor, director, writer and college teacher James Franco authored an editorial in The Washington Post praising fast-food giant McDonalds for giving him a job when no one else would. 

The Spider-Man and Planet of the Apes star said that in 1996 he was an 18 year old with little skills and a dream of becoming an actor.   He had just graduated high school and was attending a “hole-in-the-wall” acting school.  His parents cut off his financial support since he wasn’t enrolled in college.  Franco was a struggling student and wannabe actor in desperate need of a way to earn money.

Franco unsuccessfully searched for a job as a waiter (he said those coveted jobs were taken by would-be actors with more experience).  Franco admits that while he worked during high school, he was hardly the employee of the month—he was fired from his two jobs for spending his time reading instead of working. 

He needed a job, and he needed one fast: “I went to the nearest Mickey D’s and was hired the same day.”

As Franco put it,”McDonalds was there for me when no one else was.” 

Franco says that not only did he earn a paycheck and job experience at McDonalds, he got free cheeseburgers that were headed for the garbage bin. 

CNNMoney notes that the minimum wage in 1996 was $4.75, which is the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $7.11 today.  That’s pretty close to the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.  Franco doesn’t say how much he was paid while employed at McDonalds, but chances are it wasn’t much more than minimum wage.  

But based on Franco’s own words, his labor wasn’t worth more than that at that point in his life.  He was young, he had no skills or experience and he had previously demonstrated a less-than-committed work ethic.  He was using his time in the drive-through to practice fake accents for acting class.  And he confesses to hiding in the freezer to sneak free apple pies and snatching fries right out of the fryer as he walked by.   Does this sound like someone who should earn a premium wage of $15 per hour? 

Despite his occupational shortcomings, Franco says, “I was treated fairly well at McDonald’s. If anything, they cut me slack. And, just like their food, the job was more available there than anywhere else. When I was hungry for work, they fed the need.”

Franco’s experience is exactly what minimum wage jobs were designed for, and what they still are for most workers—readily-available, entry-level jobs for those with few skills and experience.  And just like most minimum wage earners, Franco didn’t stay there long before moving on to more challenging, and better paying, jobs.

Erin Shannon ([email protected]) is director of the Washington Policy Center’s Center for Small Business. An earlier version of this article was published at http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/blog. Reprinted with permission.