McDonald's Corp. for years has fought back against critics who complain it's making people fat. On Tuesday, it went on the offensive against those who assail it as a lousy place to work.
Thousands showed up to restaurants nationwide to apply for jobs on the hamburger giant's first National Hiring Day, creating lines at some restaurants. The world's largest burger chain planned to use the day to add 50,000 new workers.
McDonald's painted the event as a boon for an economy where more than 13 million Americans are still looking for work. But the company usually staffs up for summer anyway. It added 50,000 new workers in April last year, so the blitz amounts to typical hiring, albeit compressed into a day.
The real purpose of the hiring campaign, industry experts said, was to portray the fast-food chain as a good employer.
"There are worse things an economic rebound could ask than, 'Welcome to McDonald's — may I take your order please?'" Jan Fields, president of McDonald's U.S. operations, wrote in an opinion piece for the company.
Fighting the "you-want-fries-with-that" jokes will be a challenge for a company whose name is often synonymous with cautionary tales about dead-end jobs. "McJob" even has a place in The Oxford English Dictionary, defined as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects."
But to people who need work, any stigma is beside the point. Managers at a McDonald's in Cincinnati said a dozen or so applicants had lined up by 7 a.m., an hour before the restaurant planned to start interviews. By 10 a.m., the store had interviewed 100 people and had 25 more waiting.
Tiwian Irby, 28, was hoping for a full-time job and wasn't particular about what it would entail. He said he'd had trouble finding regular work since getting laid off from his construction job two years ago.
"A job is a job to me," said Irby, a father of three. "I'll take whatever is available."
Cortney Gatewood, 16, was looking for part-time work to save for college and didn't hesitate to consider McDonald's.
"I think it's a good place to work," Gatewood said. "I come here almost every day to eat anyway."
Danitra Barnett, the company's U.S. vice president of human resources, said she couldn't specify what proportion of the 50,000 new jobs will be full-time, or what they will pay. About 90 percent of McDonald's restaurants are owned by franchisees, and the company doesn't control what they offer in wages or benefits. Barnett said most franchisees pay more than minimum wage, which is $7.25-an-hour nationally.
McDonald's said it and its franchisees will spend an additional $518 million in the coming year because of Tuesday's hiring. That amounts to just over $10,000 per new employee.
Spokeswoman Danya Proud said the company preferred to emphasize the total economic benefit of the campaign, including the money that new workers will spend in their local economies.
"It's not just the money that we're going to be spending putting back in the economy," Proud said, "but what these individuals and others will be spending and putting back into the economy."
Proud said that salaried managers for company-owned restaurants can make between about $32,000 and $50,000 annually.
The company said last year that about 75 percent of employees at company-owned restaurants are part-time, averaging 18 hours a week.
But it also touts how those jobs can grow into bigger opportunities. According to the company, 30 percent of its executives started in restaurants, as well as more than 70 percent of restaurant managers.
With 14,000 U.S. restaurants, Tuesday's planned additions amount to about three or four new employees per restaurant — the amount that each store is probably usually looking for anyway, said Sara Senatore, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein.
For Richmond, Va., area franchisee Sue Durlak, the event was an opportunity to expand the applicant pool for her 10 restaurants, and maybe even find someone who can follow in her footsteps.
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She started part-time in 1982 while working as a middle-school health teacher in Illinois to supplement her income. She has since worked her way up to owning several locations.
"I do look at anyone who applies, as well as the rest of my team, as the potential as a lifer," Durlak said.
McDonald's is expected to release the final hiring count next week.