Culver's CEO supports two-tiered minimum wage system

craig culver
craig culver

WISCONSIN - The leader of the largest fast-food chain based in Wisconsin says he supports raising the federal minimum wage for some workers.

Craig Culver, the CEO of Culver's Restaurants, says businesses should pay adult workers what he calls a "livable wage."

"I believe good companies will take care of their people, pay them fairly," said Culver.

Culver believes the federal minimum wage for adult workers should be at least $10.10 an hour, with a separate minimum wage for workers under 18. He thinks those young workers should still be paid around the current federal minimum wage, which is $7.25.

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association believes a two-tiered system has merit, but it doesn't support any minimum wage increase at this time.

"We feel it would eliminate quite a few jobs in our industry and maybe even put some small businesses out of business," said Pete Hanson, the vice president of public affairs for the WRA.

Culver says he doesn't know exactly how many employees would be impacted by a change. We did a FOX 11 Fact Check to look into the impact on his company.

There are 500 Culver's restaurants in 21 states with about 25,000 total employees. Culver says he doesn't tell franchise owners how much to pay employees.

At the nine restaurants Culver owns himself, he says workers are already paid on a tiered system, with adults starting at between $9 and $10 an hour, teenagers earning less.

FOX 11 asked why he doesn't support a $10.10 minimum wage for everyone.

"I struggle with it, I just do," he said.

Culver points out raising the minimum wage would also likely raise the prices customers pay for food.

"Everybody must remember if our expenses go up in a business, somehow or another you have to compensate for that in the bottom line," he said.

A two-tiered minimum wage is not a new idea at the state level. Some states, including Michigan, currently have a two-tiered system in place.

Not all employees currently earn the minimum wage in Wisconsin. Workers between the ages of 14 to 19 can earn what is called an "opportunity wage" of $5.90 for the first 90 days on the job. The rate then goes to $7.25.

Bills to raise the federal minimum wage have been introduced once again this year in the House and Senate. The Senate could debate the measure at the end of March, but it has stalled in the House.