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Protesters arrested in pay fight at McDonald's headquarters

By Priya Sridhar & Candice Choi

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 03:15 p.m. HST, May 21, 2014

OAK BROOK, Ill. » Protesters were arrested after refusing to leave corporate property 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.

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.

Although some municipalities have higher rates, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and translates to about $15,000 a year for a person who works 40 hours a week. But most fast-food workers are given far less time on the clock, in part because restaurant owners want to avoid paying overtime and limit the number of employees who receive benefits, if they are offered.

Protesters also plan to demonstrate outside the company's annual meeting Thursday morning.

Shareholder meetings offer the public a rare chance to confront top executives at major publicly traded companies. While ordinary investors typically don't attend, the meetings are frequented by public pension funds, activist groups and religious organizations seeking to change corporate practices.

Although other fast-food chains such as Burger King and Taco Bell use many of the same practices, McDonald's is a frequent target for critics because of its size and high profile.

In a statement, the company said it respects "everyone's right to peacefully protest." Later, spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem called the protest "very much a staged event."

Choi reported from New York. AP Video Journalist Sridhar contributed from Oak Brook, Illinois. AP Newswoman Tammy Webber contributed from Chicago.

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Donna2415 wrote:
Working for McDonald's wasn't meant to be a terminal career. McDonald jobs are meant to be entry level employment for those with limited or no job experience in hopes that they will move on to better careers. If you start paying McDonald workers $15.00 an hour with benefits, you better be prepared to pay for $10.00 Big Macs.
on May 21,2014 | 03:26PM
BIG wrote:
True dat
on May 21,2014 | 04:15PM
bsdetection wrote:
The idea that the fast food industry is doing society a favor by training young, inexperienced workers for better careers is a cynical, conservative myth. Almost 40 percent of fast food workers are 25 or older. More than 30 percent have at least some college experience. More than a quarter are parents.
on May 22,2014 | 03:48AM
lee1957 wrote:
Advice for Jessica, keep your pants on, no more kids.
on May 21,2014 | 05:05PM
st1d wrote:
what does the seiu pay its employees?
on May 21,2014 | 05:16PM
AhiPoke wrote:
When you start to artificially set things like pay and price you disrupt the capitalist system in which we live and work. Eventually it removes incentives and creates inflation. McDonald workers will end up with the same buying power as they currently have.
on May 21,2014 | 11:05PM
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