Oak Brook — Less than 24 hours after 5,000 workers marched on McDonald’s corporate headquarters, the burger giant’s cooks and cashiers returned to Oak Brook Thursday morning to bring their call for $15 and union rights directly to the company’s shareholders at their annual meeting.
Armed with 1.4 million petition signatures from everyday Americans calling on the fast-food giant to pay $15 and respect workers’ right to form a union, the workers marched up to the gates of McDonald’s suburban campus outside of Chicago, chanting “We Believe That We Will Win” and “We Want Change And We Don’t Mean Pennies.”
A delegation of workers wearing their company-issued uniforms continued onto the campus and brought boxloads of petitions directly to shareholders. The signatures were gathered with support of partners including MoveOn.org, Credo Action, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, The Other 98%, SumOfUs, Daily Kos, Change.org, Brigade Team, and others. The petition reads: “For more than two years, fast-food cooks and cashiers have called for fair pay, and I stand with them. McDonald’s workers deserve $15 an hour and union rights. It’s time 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 Safiyyah Cotton, who traveled to Oak Brook from Philadelphia. Cotton, 22, lives with her sister to save money, and relies on food stamps and childcare subsidies to support her one-year-old son. “I often get sent home in the middle of my shift if the store isn’t busy enough. That makes it impossible to budget or plan childcare. And that’s why I traveled to Oak Brook: to let McDonald’s shareholders know that they should invest in workers, instead of further enriching wealthy executives and hedge fund managers.”
McDonald’s only response during the meeting to workers’ demand for $15 and union rights was that the company provides job opportunities for young people. But U.S. Census Bureau data show that 70 percent of fast-food workers are adults over the age of 20, more than one-third of those workers are raising children, and 37 percent have at least some college education. “I’ve been working at McDonald’s for 32 years and am paid only $8.95 an hour,” said Felipe Mujica of Chicago. “McDonald’s workers aren’t kids working for pocket change – they are moms and dads.”
Thursday’s protest came as institutional investors with major holdings in McDonald’s spoke out against the company’s addiction to buying back its own stock. New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, Chicago Treasurer Kurt A. Summers, and California Controller Betty T. Yee released a joint letter highlighting their concerns about the overuse of buybacks at companies like McDonald’s.
“McDonalds is facing serious performance challenges,” the letter reads. “But despite a recently announced and much needed turnaround plan, the company continues to direct capital towards an aggressive share buyback program.”
In an op-ed Thursday morning in Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summer called on McDonald’s to curb its focus on “short term financial engineering tactics” such as share buybacks, and instead concentrate on making a “long-term investment in the best interest of shareholders, employees and customers” through reforms that would ensure greater accountability for the company’s leadership.
The petition delivery marked the culmination of two days of worker protests—the largest-ever demonstrations to hit the company’s shareholder meeting. On Wednesday, McDonald’s shut down its headquarters in anticipation of the thousands of workers, who showed up marching behind a giant banner that read, “McDonald’s: $15 and Union Rights, Not Food Stamps,” and chanting, “We Work, We Sweat, Put $15 in Our Check.” They were joined by ministers and faith leaders from across the country, who led a service calling on McDonald’s to do the right thing by paying workers $15 and respecting their right to join together in a union.
The Thursday protest occurred amidst growing momentum from coast-to-coast for higher pay. It came the day after a Wage Board convened by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held its first meeting to decide on a significant increase in pay for 180,000 fast-food workers across the state. And it came the same week that elected officials in Los Angeles voted to raise pay in the nation’s second most populous city to $15.
Earlier this month of a paper in the Harvard Business Review by William Lazonick, a University of Massachusetts Lowell economist, detailed nearly $30 billion McDonald’s has spent on share buybacks in the last decade. Lazonick and two co-authors argue that McDonald’s should have spent that money raising worker pay, or invested it in the company, instead of using it to “manipulate” its stock price and enrich executives and short-term investors.
In the United States, the federal government is accusing the fast-food giant of rampant labor-law violations, and is arguing that the corporate parent, not just franchisees, are responsible for the illegal actions. McDonald’s workers in three states filed class action lawsuits alleging wage theft and cooks and cashiers filed a federal civil rights suit alleging rampant racial discrimination at stores in Virginia.
Workers also filed more than two-dozen complaints in 19 cities with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging McDonald’s workers are being burned on the job, with many told to use condiments like mustard to ease the pain. Meanwhile, scrutiny is increasing on the public cost of the company’s low wages.
Earlier this week, SEIU petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into the nation’s $800 billion franchise industry, calling the dramatic imbalance of power between franchisors and franchisees, “abusive and predatory.”