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Intent on Leading a 'Political Revolution,' Not Just a Campaign, Sanders Rallies Support for McDonald's Strike

"There is no reason that McDonald's, a company that took in $1.4 billion in profit and paid its CEO $22 million, can't pay its workers a living wage."

McDonald's employees across the nation walked out of their jobs Thursday to demand fair wages, protection from sexual harassment in their workplaces, and a labor union. (Photo: @FightFor15/Twitter)

In a demonstration of what the Bernie Sanders campaign says makes its operation unique—"not just a campaign, but a movement"—its email list, social media team, and volunteer network was mobilized to galvanize support for a series of strikes by fast food workers taking place nationwide on Thursday.

As McDonald's held its annual shareholders meeting, workers went on strike in cities across the country, demanding a $15 minimum wage, the right to form a union, and protection from sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.

Sanders rallied his supporters ahead of the strike, using his campaign's email list to call on progressives to show solidarity with McDonald's workers in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee.

"We're building the largest volunteer army in the nation not just to win the Democratic nomination, but also to mobilize people to show up in key fights where people's lives and livelihoods are on the line," Claire Sandberg, Sanders' national organizing director, told The Guardian. "We are proud to uphold Bernie's commitment to workers and we will continue to activate our supporters and urge them to join picket lines across the country to support the fight for a strong labor movement."

As workers rallied around the country—and McDonald's shareholders learned about the billions of dollars the company made in profits in 2018 their annual meeting in Dallas's Grand Hyatt Hotel—Sanders held a nearby video town hall where he spoke with labor organizers and workers in Dallas. 

Bleu Rainer, a McDonald's employee who has worked in stores in multiple states, told Sanders that "nothing changed" when Rainer moved from North Carolina to Florida.

"We're building the largest volunteer army in the nation not just to win the Democratic nomination, but also to mobilize people to show up in key fights where people's lives and livelihoods are on the line." —Claire Sandberg, national organizing director, Bernie 2020

"We're still overworked and underpaid," Rainer said. "Everywhere in this country workers go through the same situations. Big corporations like McDonald's have rigged the economic system so only they can benefit from their profit, and they make it harder and harder for us to get a fair shot at the American dream."

"How do we rewrite the rules so workers like us have a fair shot at joining a union and corporations don't have any power over what workers need in our families and our communities?" Rainer asked.

"The only time that working people make gains is when they organize and stand up against the kind of corporate greed that we are seeing today," Sanders said. "We need a political revolution in this country which says that we're going to have an economy and a government that works for all of us, not just the one percent."

While McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook earned more than $21 million in 2017, the average worker in McDonald's 14,000 U.S. restaurants is paid only about $9 per hour.  

"If Amazon can raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour there is no reason that McDonald's, a company that took in $1.4 billion in profit and paid its CEO $22 million, can't pay its workers a living wage," Sanders said in a statement Thursday. "I am proud to stand with workers demanding $15 an hour and a union."

After the town hall, workers marched to the Grand Hyatt to assemble outside the meeting.

Watch (march begins at 27:50):

Workers chanted, "Union rights!" and "Si Se Puede!" outside the meeting.

The strike comes days after Time's Up Legal Defense Fund and Fight for $15 filed 25 complaints and lawsuits alleging rampant sexual harassment in McDonald's stores across the country.

At his video town hall, Sanders also addressed the need to ensure a safe workplace for all McDonald's employees.

"Workers cannot get a fair shake unless they are organized...unless we address the issue that is of concern to so many of you—the issue of sexual harassment the issue of violence on the job," Sanders said. "And the only way that workers are going to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve is when they have a union."

Last summer, Sanders joined Disneyland workers in demanding fair pay, helping the employees' unions to secure a $15 minimum wage. His advocacy also thrust a manufacturing strike at Wabtec Corporation in Erie, Pennsylvania into the national spotlight in March, ramping up pressure on the company to maintain living wages for employees.  

"The momentum is with us," Sanders said Thursday, "to make sure that in the wealthiest country in the world, any worker who works 40 hours a week will not live in poverty."

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