101 McDonald’s Workers Arrested In Largest-Ever Labor Protest to Hit Company
Hours before annual shareholders meeting,
101 McDonald’s Workers Arrested In Largest-Ever Labor Protest to Hit Company
Three dozen clergy, community leaders arrested as 2,000 March on McDonald's Corporate Campus for $15/Hr and a Union, Against Wage Theft; Company Facing “More Challenges than Ever Before”
(Chicago) – Fed up with low pay, wage theft and McDonald’s refusal to listen to them, 101 McDonald’s employees – many of whom were wearing their McDonald’s uniforms – from nearly three-dozen cities surged onto the company’s Oak Brook, Ill., corporate campus Wednesday, calling for $15 an hour and a union, and were arrested. Three- dozen clergy and community members were also arrested in what was the largest-ever labor protest to hit McDonald’s.
In all, more than 2,000 workers, clergy and community supporters marched on McDonald’s headquarters, just hours before the company’s annual shareholders meeting and just a week after strikes and protests rocked 230 cities around the world in what MSNBC called the “biggest fast-food strike ever.” Protests were expected to resume Thursday morning outside the shareholders meeting.
"We went on strike, we protested, we asked politely and now we got arrested to make sure McDonald’s hears us,” said Ashona Osborne, who earns $7.25 at a McDonald’s in Pittsburgh. “I came to McDonald’s shareholders meeting because I want the company to take me seriously and know that I'm a mother who is sick of struggling to support her son."
Chanting, “Hey McDonald’s You Can’t Hide, We Can See Your Greedy Side,” and “No Big Macs, No Fries, Make our Wage Supersize,” the workers marched onto McDonald’s sprawling suburban campus and held a sit-in, blocking the entrance.
After 20 minutes of waving signs that read “We’re Worth More” and singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” they got up and marched deeper into the campus, where they were confronted by a phalanx of police officers in riot gear. They sat in again, and after the police issued two orders to disperse, they began arresting workers.
Milwaukee McDonald’s worker Natasha Carson was the first worker arrested, followed, one by one, by 100 more from 33 cities. Three-dozen labor, community and faith leaders were also arrested, including SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, the Rev. Donna Simon from St. Mark Church in Kansas City and Byron Hobbs, executive director of SOUL, a Chicago-based community organization.
Earlier in the day, McDonald’s shut down a corporate headquarter building in Oak Brook where workers had planned to protest.
“We are bound morally to stand up, fight and demand living wages for workers,” said Rev. Dr. William Barber II, leader of North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement and head of the NAACP’s N.C. chapter, who led the march onto McDonald’s campus. “We can’t treat corporations like people, and people like things. A living wage is a moral mandate, and it’s time for McDonald’s to pay fast-food workers their just due now.”
Wednesday’s arrests come as McDonald’s faces “more challenges than ever before.” Feeling increasing anger from shareholders, franchisees, customers and especially workers, McDonald’s barred reporters from attending this year’s annual meeting. USA Today described the protests as a “public relations minefield” for a company that "spends billions painting an image of smiles and fun.” Yet despite mounting pressure, McDonald’s refuses to act, holding on to the decades-old notion that its workers are teenagers looking for pocket change – rather than adults struggling to raise families.
"I've been working for McDonalds for 10 years and my hourly paycheck is the same now as it was my first day on the job: $7.35,” said Cherri Delisline, a mother of four from Charleston, SC. “It’s not okay for McDonald’s to rake in huge profits but pay us so little we can't support our families. I went on strike and now I got arrested and I will continue to protest until McDonald’s listens.”
As McDonald’s U.S. sales are slumping, the company is facing growing criticism from both customers and franchisees. A recent Harris poll found that McDonald’s reputation among customers fell sharply, and surveys show that a majority of franchise owners are upset with the company, describing their relationship as “poor” and giving McDonald’s the lowest ratings it’s seen in 12 years. Even so, McDonald’s made nearly $5.6 billion in profits last year.
In the past year, McDonald’s has been widely ridiculed for its sample budget for workers, which required them to get a second job to make ends meet; its employee advice site that told workers to sing away stress, take small bites of food to avoid hunger and not eat fast food; an employee hotline that encouraged workers to apply for public assistance; and findings that the company costs U.S. taxpayers $1.2 billion annually in public assistance for its workers.
Scrutiny on McDonald’s has intensified since the release of a report earlier this month by Demos showing that the fast-food industry has the largest disparity between worker and CEO pay. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said that excessive pay disparities “pose a risk to share owner value," and that conversations around inequality should move into the boardrooms of profitable fast-food companies. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company admitted that the growing and focus on inequality might force them to raise wages.
“The problems of pay disparity in fast food extend beyond the industry to the rest of our economy,” said Catherine Ruetschlin, Demos Policy Analyst and author of the report Fast Food Failure. “Even McDonald’s has acknowledged that rising inequality is a risk to their bottom line, as companies see pay disparity appear as operational issues, legal challenges, and diminished worker and customer satisfaction. Those consequences pose a real risk to shareholders, who have a material interest in addressing the practices that undermine long-term performance of the firm and inhibit stability and growth in the economy overall.”
A campaign that started in New York City in November 2012, with 200 fast-food workers walking off their jobs demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation, has since spread to more than 150 cities in every region of the country, including the South—and now around the world. The growing fight for $15 has been credited with elevating the debate around inequality in the U.S. When Seattle's mayor proposed a $15 minimum wage earlier this month, Businessweek said he was “adopting the rallying cry of fast-food workers.”
The spread of the worker movement overseas should cause further alarm. International fast-food restaurants are expected to expand at four times the rate of U.S. businesses, according to a recent Merrill Lynch report. And while US sales slump, companies like McDonald’s are relying on growth overseas to boost their bottom lines more than ever.
Founded in November of 2012, the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago is a union of fast food and retail workers. The workers’ Fight for 15 campaign seeks a $15 an hour wage, more work hours, and the right to form a union without retaliation. The Fight for 15 campaign is supported by an ever-expanding coalition of community, labor and faith-based groups including: Action Now; Albany Park Neighborhood Council; Arise Chicago; Brighton Park Neighborhood Council; Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; Chicago Jobs with Justice; Chicago Teachers Union; Grassroots Collaborative; Illinois Hunger Coalition; Jane Addams Senior Caucus; ONE Northside; Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP); SEIU Local 1; SEIU Local 73; SEIU Healthcare Illinois; Indiana, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation; United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Western Region; and Workers United.