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Labor activists hold a rally in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour on the National Mall on May 19, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Members of the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) organized the rally in support of striking McDonald's workers who are demanding a wage increase. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez Join McDonald's Workers to Demand a $15 Minimum Wage Amid Nationwide Strike

"When working people stand together, they cannot be defeated."

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined McDonald's employees via a livestream on Wednesday as workers across the U.S. staged a strike to protest what Sanders called "starvation wages" at one of the world's largest fast food chains.

Workers at McDonald's stores in 15 cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Kansas City, and Detroit organized "Walkout Wednesday" with the national advocacy group Fight for $15. In addition to the strike, public actions are taking place in dozens of cities and workers and supporters rallying outside McDonald's corporate headquarters in Chicago ahead of the company's annual shareholder's meeting. 

"When working people stand together, they cannot be defeated," Sanders told Business Insider on Tuesday. "I'm proud to join courageous workers who are taking on corporate greed and demanding dignity on the job."

The strike comes a month after McDonald's announced it would raise its minimum wages at corporate-owned stores, affecting only 5% of its restaurants in the U.S. where entry-level workers on average make $11 per hour while shift managers make $15 per hour.

"If you want to look like you're raising your wages to $15 per hour then you should actually raise them to $15 per hour for every McDonald's worker in this country, minimum," said Ocasio-Cortez in a live video broadcast on social media Wednesday as the workers walked out. "The U.S. Congress is not being tricked or duped into thinking they've raised the wage."

Watch the livestream of Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and other advocates speaking about the need for a living wage for all workers:

"Tomorrow will be the shareholders' meeting where a bunch of millionaires come together to discuss how they'll distribute their profit," said Nashon Blount, an employee based in Durham, North Carolina. "We're here to let you know today, McDonald's, we are your profit. We are the ones who make the burgers, make the fries and everything inside the store, so it is not right that we get paid so little."

A spokesperson for McDonald's told Business Insider Tuesday that "it's the responsibility of federal and local government to set minimum wage," drawing rebukes from the Fight for $15 movement and workers.

"McDonald's doesn't have to wait for Congress to pass $15," said Fight for $15. "Even in 2020, the height of the recession, the company pulled in nearly $5 billion in profit and paid out billions to shareholders. No employer needs to wait for Congress to raise the minimum wage to pay fairly."

As the employees went on strike, Sanders shared a video on social media detailing fast food workers' years-long leadership in pushing for a higher federal minimum wage. 

Other progressive advocates expressed their support for Walkout Wednesday on social media.

In the livestreamed event, Ocasio-Cortez credited grassroots organizers with continuing to push for fair wages and pressuring lawmakers to ensure legislation raising the minimum wage is passed.

"Without your strikes, without your organizing, without you speaking up and doing what you're doing today, we cannot push for it," said Ocasio-Cortez. "It is because you are out there mobilizing that we can point to that organizing and say, this is how bad the people want it. This is what they are in fact demanding."

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