On the same day that McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook announced sweeping changes aimed at "returning excitement" to the behemoth—and struggling—fast-food chain, thousands of McDonald's cooks and cashiers vowed to descend on the the company's annual shareholder meeting in Illinois later this month to demand higher wages, fairer treatment, and the right to organize.
"We may not have a seat in the room, but we're sure that McDonald's will hear us when we say that its turnaround needs to include investment in and respect for its employees," said Adriana Alvarez, who has worked at McDonald's for five years, and was one of 101 workers arrested at a peaceful sit-in at last year's shareholder meeting.
"We need to put an end to corporations raking in billions while their employees are forced to skip meals. We are fighting to build a country where people who work hard are paid enough to survive."
—Rev. Dwayne Grant, Greater Englewood United Methodist Church
Alvarez is paid so little that she needs food stamps, child care subsidies, and Medicaid to support her three-year-old son, Manny. "I should be able to afford to buy my son the milk he needs to grow up healthy, but that’s impossible on what McDonald’s pays me."
Her story is common among McDonald's employees, tens of thousands of whom have taken to the streets to protest poverty wages in recent fast-food strikes and walk-outs.
"The fight by fast-food workers for fair pay on the job is a continuation of the moral movement for economic justice that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. started 50 years ago," said Rev. Dwayne Grant, pastor at Greater Englewood United Methodist Church in Chicago. "We need to put an end to corporations raking in billions while their employees are forced to skip meals. We are fighting to build a country where people who work hard are paid enough to survive."
In a 23-minute video released Monday, Easterbrook indicated that McDonald's, too, is struggling to stay afloat.
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"The reality is our recent performance has been poor. The numbers don’t lie," the CEO said, outlining a company-wide "reset" plan to "shape McDonald’s future as a modern, progressive burger company."
It was not immediately clear what Easterbrook meant by "progressive burger company," though when pressed by the Guardian, he "refused to answer questions about whether the company would increase workers wage beyond a recent pledge to lift company-owned (rather than franchised) restaurant workers pay to $9.90, up from current average of $9.01."
In fact, according to Monday's announcement, McDonald's wants to sell 3,500 corporate-run restaurants to independent owners by the end of 2018—a "refranchising" that company claims will "generate more stable and predictable revenue and cash flow streams and will require a less resource-intensive support structure."
However, there's an added bonus to such a move: it would bring the chain's franchise count from about 80 percent of total stores to 90 percent, reducing the already-low number of workers McDonald's plans to pay an increased minimum wage.
On Monday, the Fight for $15 released its own video, announcing what it says will be the largest-ever protest at the McDonald's shareholder meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois: