One day before the annual McDonald’s shareholder meeting took place in Oak Brook Thursday, hundreds of minimum wage workers and their supporters descended upon the fast food company’s corporate headquarters to demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union.
After protesters entered the McDonald’s campus at Jorie Boulevard and Kroc Drive and staged a sit-in, 138 demonstrators were arrested and charged with an ordinance violation of criminal trespass to property, according to the Oak Brook Police Department.
“We need $15 an hour and a union to support our families,” said Jessica Davis, 25, moments before she was arrested Wednesday afternoon. Davis, a single mother with two children, ages 4 and 9 months, has worked at a McDonald’s restaurant on Chicago’s West Side for more than four years.
Chanting, “Hey, McDonald’s you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” Davis was one of roughly 1,500 protesters from nearly 36 cities, including Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, New York City, Los Angeles and Milwaukee, to march on McDonald’s headquarters as part of the "Fight for 15" campaign, which calls for better pay, better working conditions and the right to form a union free from retaliation for low-wage workers.
“I make $8.98, and it’s not enough,” she said. “I have to depend on public assistance and my family, and I shouldn’t have to do that when I have a job with a big corporation that makes billions of dollars every year on my back.”
McDonald’s was hit with seven class-action lawsuits in March by workers in California, Michigan and New York. Accusing the company of unlawful pay practices, ranging from the failure to provide workers with proper overtime compensation to forcing employees to work off the clock, the lawsuits were filed on behalf of some 30,000 workers.
In response to the lawsuits, McDonald's reports it launched a comprehensive internal investigation.
Also, in an annual report filed in March with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), McDonald’s admitted the labor strikes and “increasing public focus on matters of income inequality” may “adversely affect” the Golden Arches.
“We’re taking the fight to their doorstop—to their most important meeting of the year—so that they’ll know we’re serious,” Davis said.
Here’s more from Davis and Wednesday’s protest:
According to an April report from the public policy organization, Demos, the fast food industry — one of the highest growth employers in the nation — has the largest disparity between worker and CEO pay.
In 2012, the average fast food CEO’s salary was more than 1,200 times the average fast food worker’s compensation, according to the report. The average fast food CEO, the report said, earned $23.8 million in 2013, while the average hourly wage of fast food workers was slightly more than $9 per hour.
“McDonald’s is a billion dollar organization, they can afford to pay us more,” said Tylan Jones, 22, of St. Louis, moments before he was arrested.
Jones has worked at a McDonald’s restaurant in St. Louis for more than one year and earns $7.50 per hour. He said he provides for his 15-year-old sister and struggles to pay his bills.
“It’s hard to feed your family on such little pay,” he said.
McDonald’s is seen as fast food industry leader, according to the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC), which helped organize Wednesday’s protest.
If workers can get McDonald's to change its labor practices and provide better pay and working conditions, other fast food chains could follow suit, the labor activists claim.
“These workers want $15 an hour and they want a union contract, and they won’t stop until they get it,” said Kendall Fells, director of New York-based Fast Food Forward.
The Fight for 15 campaign gained traction across the country after New York fast food employees staged the first strike against the $200 billion fast food industry back in November 2012.
WOCC’s first retail and fast food worker strike in Chicago, which prompted hundreds of low-wage workers to protest and strike in April 2013, was largely regarded as successful. Several employees who participated in the strike saw significant victories within the workplace, including promotions, wage hikes and increased hours.
“We don’t think it’s fair that we make minimum wage while these companies make billions and billions every year,” said Adriana Alvarez, 22, of Cicero, who has worked at McDonald’s for four years and makes $9.15 per hour. Alvarez is a single mom and sole provider for her 2-year-old son.
“This company needs to stop being greedy, and realize what they’re doing to their workers. We need $15 per hour and a union to back us up.”