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The low-wage worker movement has grown dramatically over recent years. (Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr/cc)

Decrying Corporate Greed, McDonald's Cooks and Cashiers Confront Shareholders

'McDonald’s workers are rightly bringing the fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union to their employer’s doorstep.'

Deirdre Fulton

Calling for higher wages and fairer treatment, McDonald's cooks and cashiers will gather with progressive leaders on Wednesday and Thursday for large protests outside the company's shareholder meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois.

The two-day demonstration comes in the aftermath of the largest-ever strike to hit the fast-food industry—a 236-city walkout that included strikes and protests in 40 countries and 100 cities around the globe, from Amsterdam to Zurich—and just one day after the Los Angeles city council overwhelmingly passed its own minimum wage hike.

"It’s time McDonald’s face the people who fry its fries and serve its customers but who are forced to pay for groceries with food stamps because McDonald’s does not pay them enough to feed their families."
—Christine Owens, National Employment Law Project

On Monday, Common Dreams reported that the fast food giant, which is struggling in the face of slumping sales, said it would ban all media from the corporate event—a move that union leaders called "extremely shocking and troubling."

The company is right to anticipate bad publicity over the next two days.

Last year, according to the Chicago Tribune, about 500 workers and community activists staged peaceful protests at the McDonald's annual meeting. On the first day, 138 people were arrested, including 101 workers, for trespassing.

This year's action is supposed to be even bigger.

"The anticipated jump in numbers reflects the growth of the movement and the expansion of the strategy during this past year," David Moberg writes at In These Times. "The movement has stirred up interest among workers far beyond fast foods, including student workers, adjunct teachers and retail workers. The number of people taking part in the national protests/strikes have grown as well."

Moberg adds: "But at the same time, the movement has focused very intently on one company, McDonald’s, since it is the biggest fast-food franchise company in the world and helps set global patterns. If the movement, primarily funded and initiated by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), can win victories with the industry leader, it may be somewhat easier to win the same changes at other companies."

In addition to highlighting worker demands of a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize, organizers are focusing their attention on recent revelations McDonald’s has spent nearly $30 billion on share buybacks in the last decade, enriching investors and executives at the expense of workers and franchisees while exacerbating inequality.

"Spending billions on buybacks may provide short-term payoffs for a handful of rich investors, but it does nothing to benefit the company’s hundreds of thousands of employees, who are barely making ends meet," National Employment Law Project (NELP) executive director Christine Owens said in a statement supporting the worker protest. "In fact, it misplaces resources that would be better used investing in growing the company or raising worker pay."

Owens continued: "McDonald’s workers are rightly bringing the fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union to their employer’s doorstep. For too long, the McDonald’s business model has served to enrich executives and short-term shareholders at the expense of workers and taxpayers. It’s time McDonald’s face the people who fry its fries and serve its customers but who are forced to pay for groceries with food stamps because McDonald’s does not pay them enough to feed their families."

Wednesday's protest at McDonald's headquarters began at noon and was set to feature speeches by SEIU president Mary Kay Henry; Rev. William Barber II, convener of the Moral Mondays movement and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C.; Rev. Marilyn Pagán Banks of North Side Power/A Just Harvest in Chicago, Ill.; and Rev. Rodney E. Williams of the Swope Parkway United Christian Church in Kansas City, Mo.

A smaller demonstration will take place Thursday, the day shareholders are scheduled to convene.

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