Burger King co-founder David Edgerton says fast food workers pushing for higher wages could spell the end of the “dollar menu,” and usher in an era of higher-quality, more expensive convenience restaurants.
Edgerton, 87, spoke to TIME on Wednesday as fast-food workers around the world staged protests and strikes—some at Burger King locations—as a part of the “Fight for $15” campaign, which calls for a $15 per hour minimum wage and the right to unionize.
“What’s going to happen, really, is you’re going to see less and less of the quick and dirty kind of places,” said Edgerton, who founded the fast food giant with James McLamore in 1954 and now serves on the board of Avantcare, a company that makes nutritional products to help treat addiction. “You’re not going to be able to run these places [paying workers] $15 an hour or whatever it will be.”
The push for higher wages will be reflected in menus, Edgerton said. A few companies will stick to making “a small cheap hamburger,” he said, but most fast food chains will experience “a slow and gradual” shift toward pricier menu options.
“You’re not going to get these dollar hamburgers anymore that both Burger King and McDonald’s had,” he said. “I see a lot of $10 hamburgers arriving on the scene.”
Wednesday’s demonstrations, which organizers say are taking place in 200 cities and 30 countries, are the biggest since fast-food workers began campaigning in 2012. Some companies have already promised to pay their workers more: Walmart has said it will raise wages to $9 per hour this year and to $10 in 2016; T.J. Maxx, Target and McDonald’s have also said they would raise wages to $9 per hour, but for McDonald’s, the hike will only directly affect 12% of workers.
Burger King operates slightly differently than its rivals. The chain was purchased by private equity firm 3G Capital in 2010 and now, all but 52 of its restaurants are owned and run by franchisees, according to Bloomberg, meaning it has little say in what its workers are paid.
Edgerton believes fast food workers will see increased wages as a result of their demonstrations, but he doesn’t think they’ll achieve the $15-an-hour rate they’re asking for. “They’re not really going to get $15, but they’ll set [the goal] high enough that there won’t be any doubt about $13 or $12,” Edgerton said. “That’s a wild figure, whoever got that thing going.”
Organizers chose to demonstrate on Tax Day because many fast-food employees say they can’t make ends meet without public aid. When asked how he would handle the protests if he were still in charge of Burger King, Edgerton said he would try and “educate” the workers.
“I’d certainly try to get them into a situation where they can be educated about the total picture,” he said. “They’re in there thinking we’re just screwing them on the price and blah blah blah and making all kinds of money.”
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