Less than 24 hours after 5,000 workers marched on McDonald's corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, the fast food giant's cooks and cashiers returned on Thursday morning to bring their call for $15 an hour and union rights directly to the company's shareholders at their annual meeting.
Chanting "We believe that we will win" and "We want change and we don't mean pennies," an estimated 3,000 workers gathered for the second day of protests on Thursday. A handful of those worker-activists—wearing their company uniforms—were permitted through a barricade in order to deliver a petition, bearing 1.4 million signatures, that calls on McDonald's to "pay your people enough to survive."
"It’s impossible to provide any stability for my son on the $7.50 an hour McDonald's pays me," said 22-year-old Safiyyah Cotton, who traveled to Oak Brook from Philadelphia. Cotton, who lives with her sister to save money, and relies on food stamps and childcare subsidies to support her one-year-old son, said she is often "sent home in the middle of my shift if the store isn’t busy enough," which makes it "impossible to budget or plan childcare."
"That's why I traveled to Oak Brook," Cotton declared, "to let McDonald’s shareholders know that they should invest in workers, instead of further enriching wealthy executives and hedge fund managers."
This week's Fight for $15 actions come amidst growing momentum for higher pay, and in the wake of the largest-ever strike to hit the fast-food industry. As they put it in a press release, workers and union supporters are 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.
To that end, this year's demonstration was double the size of the one that took place last year.
Among other grievances, organizers this week seized on recent revelations that 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.
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"Instead of raising wages and investing in the future of the company, companies like McDonald's are diverting billions of dollars of their capital into share buybacks that enrich a wealthy few—at the expense of the cooks and cashiers who serve McDonald's customers every day," SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement on Thursday. "It's time for McDonald's and other companies to raise wages and create jobs that boost the broader economy."
The corporation, for its part, has pushed back against the protests, dismissing them as a "union attack" on the McDonald's brand. At Thursday's meeting, newly appointed chief executive officer Steve Easterbrook reportedly said he was “incredibly proud” of the recent wage announcement.
The Guardian reports:
As well as pressure on the streets outside, McDonald’s faced some tough questions from its shareholders, angry at the company’s failure to keep up with the changing tastes of consumers.
Easterbrook was quizzed about the role of Ronald McDonald and the company’s marketing to children. “What sort of modern, progressive company sends a clown to schools,” asked shareholder and blogger Leah Segedie.
Easterbrook defended the company mascot. “Ronald is here to stay,” he said. He said Ronald McDonald was feeling “trendier and even more confident” after a recent makeover.
The Washington Post provided this video of the protest: