For Immediate Release
5,000 Cooks and Cashiers Wage Largest-Ever Protest at McDonald’s Shareholder Meeting
Workers, Faith Leaders Call on Company to Invest in Higher Pay, Respect Employees' Right to Unite in a Union
Worker Unrest Surges as Institutional Investors Urge McDonald’s to Curb Share Buybacks
Oak Brook, Ill. - Marching behind a giant banner that read, “McDonald’s: $15 and Union Rights, Not Food Stamps,” 5,000 cooks and cashiers massed at the company’s corporate headquarters Wednesday to kick off the largest-ever protest to hit the burger giant’s annual shareholder meeting.
Fed up with pay that drives them to rely on public assistance, angry over the company’s springtime publicity stunt disguised as a wage increase, and emboldened by recent moves by elected leaders in New York and Los Angeles to raise pay to as high as $15, workers surged into the streets outside McDonald’s corporate headquarters, doubling the size of the previous year’s historic protest.
On the eve of the annual meeting, they marched to the headquarters chanting, “We Work, We Sweat, Put $15 in Our Check,” and were joined by ministers and faith leaders from across the country, who led a service calling on McDonald’s to do the right thing by paying workers $15 and respecting their right to join together in a union. McDonald’s, which has barred reporters from the annual meeting for the second consecutive year, shut the building in anticipation of the protest and removed Golden Arches flags from the property. It also closed a restaurant adjacent to the headquarters.
“We’re here to tell McDonald’s and its shareholders to invest in the company and its workers instead of wealthy hedge fund managers and executives,” said Kwanza Brooks, a Fight for 15 National Organizing Committee member and mother of three from Charlotte, NC, who is paid $7.25. “We’re tired of relying on food stamps to feed our own families. We need $15 and the right to form a union and we need it now.”
Workers from across the country spoke from a stage outside McDonald’s corporate headquarters Wednesday afternoon, describing what it’s like to work for low pay at McDonald’s: “We’re here to make it clear to McDonald’s that we want $15 and union rights. We don’t need food stamps, and we definitely don’t want buybacks,” said Adriana Alvarez of Chicago, Ill., who has worked at McDonald’s for five years, but is paid so little that she needs food stamps, child care subsidies and Medicaid to support her three-year-old son, Manny.
The march and protest Wednesday kicked off two days of worker actions around McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting. Cooks and cashiers will return to the Oak Brook streets at 7 am Thursday. They’ll march and rally and, when the meeting begins at 9 am, deliver more than 1 million petition signatures from everyday Americans calling on McDonald’s to raise pay and respect union rights. It comes a year after 101 McDonald’s workers were arrested during a peaceful sit-in at the company’s 2014 shareholder meeting.
The workers’ protest follows the publication earlier this month of a paper in the Harvard Business Review by William Lazonick, a University of Massachusetts Lowell economist, who details nearly $30 billion McDonald’s has spent on share buybacks in the last decade. Lazonick and two co-authors argue that McDonald’s should have spent that money raising worker pay, or invested it in the company, instead of using it to “manipulate” its stock price and enrich executives and short-term investors.
And it came as several institutional investors with major holdings in McDonald’s spoke out about the company’s penchant for buying back its own stock. On Wednesday, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, Chicago Treasurer Kurt A. Summers, and California Controller Betty T. Yee released a joint letter highlighting their concerns about the overuse of buybacks at portfolio companies, including McDonald’s.
“McDonalds is facing serious performance challenges,” the letter reads. “But despite a recently announced and much needed turnaround plan, the company continues to direct capital towards an aggressive share buyback program.”
Speaking at the protest, Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry told the workers that their movement was changing the country and urged McDonald’s to listen to workers’ demand for $15 and union rights. “It’s time for McDonald’s to respect the workers on the front lines as much as they have respected shareholders by putting $30 billion in their pockets over the last 10 years,” Henry said.
Clergy from across the country led a church service in the shadows of McDonald’s headquarters, describing share buybacks as immoral and calling on the company to do the right thing by paying workers fairly and respecting their right to join together in a union.
Finally, the Rev. William Barber II, architect of the Moral Mondays Movement and pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Greensboro, NC, gave a rousing sermon, telling workers that they were “making America better.”
“I just came by to tell you when you raise up, it helps all of us recover our humanity,” Barber said. “When you raise up, it changes the political conversation. When you raise up, it makes it possible for all workers to have dignity. When you raise up, it makes it possible for a mother to feed her children.”
He admonished companies like McDonald’s for paying wages so low that workers are forced to rely on public assistance to get by.
“Pay us and we’ll get off public assistance,” Rev. Barber said. “Let me be clear, the people out here that you see, they are working people. They don’t want public assistance; they just want to live and feed their children and take care of their own. They don’t mind working, but they want a living wage when they work.”
The protest occurred amidst growing momentum from coast-to-coast for higher pay. It came the same day a Wage Board convened by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held its first meeting to decide on a significant increase in pay for 180,000 fast-food workers across the state. And it came the day after elected officials in Los Angeles voted to raise pay in the nation’s most populous city to $15.
McDonald’s shareholder meeting comes in the aftermath of the largest-ever strike to hit the fast-food industry—a 236-city April 15 walkout in every corner of the United States that included strikes and protests in 40 countries and 100 cities around the globe, from Amsterdam to Zurich.
In addition to strikes and slumping sales, McDonald’s approaches its annual meeting facing a host of business challenges at home and abroad.
In the United States, the federal government is accusing the fast-food giant of rampant labor-law violations, and is arguing that the corporate parent, not just franchisees, are responsible for the illegal actions. McDonald’s workers in three states filed class action lawsuits alleging wage theft and cooks and cashiers filed a federal civil rights suit alleging rampant racial discrimination at stores in Virginia. Workers also filed more than two-dozen complaints in 19 cities with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging McDonald’s workers are being burned on the job, with many told to use condiments like mustard to ease the pain. Meanwhile, scrutiny is increasing on the public cost of the company’s low wages.
Earlier this week, SEIU petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into the nation’s $800 billion franchise industry, calling the dramatic imbalance of power between franchisors and franchisees, “abusive and predatory.”
Overseas, McDonald's is being accused by a coalition of trade unions and the UK-based NGO War on Want of avoiding more than €1 billion in taxes over the last five years. The European Commission’s Directorate of Competition launched a preliminary investigation to find out whether McDonald’s entered into an illegal deal with Luxembourg that allowed it to avoid taxes. A new report this week by PSI and the International Union of Foodworkers detailed McDonald's global tax avoidance strategy and revealed how McDonalds has taken advantage of corporate tax loopholes to avoid paying up to US$1.8 billion in taxes, including AU$497 million in Australia.
In Brazil, a coalition of trade unions has filed two lawsuits accusing the company of widespread and systematic labor and health and safety violations. One of the suits accuses McDonald’s of “social dumping,” an anti-competitive practice that drives standards down for workers across the country, and seeks to prevent the company from opening new stores unless it complies with Brazilian law. Also, McDonald’s agent in Latin America and the Caribbean, Arcos Dorados, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, with an investor group asking the New York Stock Exchange to review the company’s corporate governance. And in Japan, an investor group is calling on McDonald’s Japan to dismiss internal directors and replace them with external ones.