Labor activists seeking $15-an-hour wages marched on McDonald’s Corp. headquarters for a second day on Thursday while executives met with investors at the fast-food chain’s annual meeting.
The event followed demonstrations on Wednesday that closed streets in McDonald’s hometown of Oak Brook, Illinois. Organizers said 1,500 people attended Thursday’s protest, while McDonald’s pegged the number at about 1,100.
A group called Fight for $15 has been pressuring fast-food chains to raise wages and allow workers to unionize since 2012. Though McDonald’s plans to boost pay at some stores, labor activists have described the move as inadequate, saying workers are paid so little that they have to rely on public assistance.
Heidi Barker, a McDonald’s spokeswoman, said few of the company’s workers participated in the demonstrations, which marked the second straight year of protests targeting the shareholder meeting. The fast-food chain described the rally as part of an $80 million publicity campaign backed by the Service Employees International Union.
“We are a progressive employer,” McDonald’s Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook said during the meeting. He called the company’s decision to raise wages at U.S. company-owned stores “the first step.”
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, who was among the protesters, said McDonald’s has the resources to pay its employees better. She declined to say how much the SEIU has spent on the fast-food wage campaign.
While protesters rallied outside, Easterbrook dealt with shareholder concerns inside. That included a question over whether the company should stop targeting children with its marketing.
Easterbrook noted that the chain’s clown mascot, Ronald McDonald, has been encouraging kids to eat more fruits and low-fat dairy.
“We’re a responsible advertiser,” he said. “Ronald is here to stay.”
McDonald’s investors at the meeting also approved a proposal making it easier to nominate directors, potentially giving them more say on the board.
The previous day’s protest was larger than Thursday’s, with local police estimating the Wednesday crowd at about 2,000. Organizers said the numbers reached 5,000, with McDonald’s cooks and cashiers participating. There were no arrests at the protest, the Oak Brook Police Department said.
Workers in restaurant uniforms delivered a petition with 1.4 million signatures on Thursday calling for $15-an-hour pay to McDonald’s headquarters.
“We’re here to tell McDonald’s and its shareholders to invest in the company and its workers instead of wealthy hedge fund managers and executives,” Kwanza Brooks, a McDonald’s employee and member of the Fight for $15 campaign, said in a statement. “We’re tired of relying on food stamps to feed our own families. We need $15 and the right to form a union, and we need it now.”
McDonald’s announced plans in April to increase pay at U.S. company-owned stores by at least $1 above the local minimum wage. The company also will begin offering vacation benefits as part of the plan, which takes effect on July 1.
“The union has spent its members’ dues money in the past two years attacking the McDonald’s brand, and the independent business men and women who own 90 percent of McDonald’s restaurants, in an unsuccessful attempt to unionize workers,” Barker said.