OAK BROOK, Ill. - Protesters were arrested after crossing a barricade outside McDonald's headquarters on Wednesday, as hundreds demonstrated to call attention to the low pay earned by fast-food workers.
The actions come ahead of the company's annual shareholders meeting Thursday, where it is also expected to be confronted on issues including its executive pay packages and marketing to children.
Early Wednesday, organizers changed the location of their demonstration after learning McDonald's closed the building where they had planned their actions and told employees there to work from home. The corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, has several buildings on a sprawling campus.
Hundreds of protesters flooded the streets Wednesday, near the McDonald’s Corp. headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill. railing about low wages and seeking $15 per hour for the rank and file. The Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago’s Fight for 15 said in a statement that restaurant workers have held strikes and protests six times in the last 1 1/2 years challenging the company’s median wage of $8.94. The Wednesday protest is a preview of what the group said it plans for Thursday’s annual stockholder’s meeting. The company closed one of its five buildings in anticipation of the protests.
Down the street from Hamburger University, dozens of police officers in riot gear warned protesters to disperse. People dressed in McDonald's uniforms essentially volunteered to be arrested by peacefully crossing a barricade or remaining on the property after being asked to leave. Organizers said about 100 McDonald's workers who traveled from around the country were arrested, along with community leaders and supporters.
Among them was Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, who said in a statement released after her arrest that she wanted McDonald's workers to know her union members stood with them.
The SEIU has been providing financial and organizational support to the fast-food protests, which began in late 2012 in New York City and have been spreading to other cities and countries.
While turnout for the protests has varied, they've nevertheless struck a chord at a time when the gap between the country's rich and poor has widened. Executive pay packages are coming under greater scrutiny too, and shareholders last week rebuked Chipotle Mexican Grill's compensation of $25.1 million and $24.4 million for its co-CEOs in a non-binding, advisory vote.
McDonald's Corp., which is far bigger than Chipotle, gave CEO Don Thompson a pay package worth $9.5 million last year.
Outside its headquarters, 25-year-old McDonald's worker Jessica Davis said she wasn't worried about being arrested.
"I'm worried about not being able to pay my bills," said Davis, who earns about $9 an hour at a Chicago restaurant. She said she supports two young children and relies on public assistance and help from her family to get by.
A spokesman for the Oak Brook police department, George Peterson, said the arrested protesters were being processed and would be released, with court dates being assigned later. He estimated the crowd of demonstrators at up to 1,500.