Fast-food giant McDonald's announced Wednesday that it would increase the wages of 90,000 employees in company-owned restaurants in the United States and offer them paid time-off.
The pay rise, however, will not apply to workers in McDonald's restaurants owned by franchisees, which comprise some 90 percent of the 14,000 McDonald's outlets across the country.
McDonald's USA said that from July 1 this year, the starting wages for full and part-time workers in its own restaurants will be one dollar above the local official minimum wage.
The company gave no average for that, but based on current state standards, the new pay scale could range from $6.15 an hour in Georgia and Wyoming to $11.50 in Washington, DC.
Some cities have even higher local standards, so that a worker at a McDonald's-owned restaurant in Seattle could earn $16 an hour.
On the other hand, five US states have no minimum wage, and it was not clear how McDonald's would set pay in those.
The company said it expected that by the end of 2016, the average wage it pays workers at company-owned restaurants will be more than $10 an hour.
It also said it will begin offering paid time-off to full and part-time restaurant crew with at least one year on the job, and expand educational support for employees at all restaurants irrespective of ownership.
"We've been working on a comprehensive benefits package for our employees -- the people who bring our brand to life for customers every day in our US restaurants," McDonald's president and chief executive Steve Easterbrook said in a statement.
"We've listened to our employees and learned that -- in addition to increased wages -- paid personal leave and financial assistance for completing their education would make a real difference in their careers and lives."
McDonald's said the 3,100 franchisee companies that operate most of the brand's outlets around the country will make their own decisions on wages.
The move comes as pressure mounts on large employers in low-paid service industries, from retail chains to fast-food businesses, to increase wages that have effectively not risen for decades, when measured against the cost of living.
In February the country's largest private sector employer, Walmart, long criticized for low wages that forced workers to seek welfare assistance, said it would boost the pay of 500,000 US workers to at leat $9 an hour.
Workers' groups quickly assailed the announcement as too limited, and far below the target of a national campaign to get $15 an hour for fast food workers.
"We know that McDonald's can do much better," said Kendall Fells, director of the Fight for $15 campaign.
"This barely affects 5 percent of McDonald's workers in this country. There are still millions of families living in poverty due to McDonald's not raising the wages to $15," he said.
Cathy Ruckelshaus of the National Employment Law Project said that because of low pay, McDonald's workers cost the government over $1 billion a year in public assistance.
"McDonald's is in a position to take leadership on providing living wages for its workers, it has plenty of profits and revenues," she said.