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Demonstrators Demand McDonald's Raise Its Wages With 1 Million Petitions

By aaroncynic in News on May 24, 2015 4:00PM

Thousands of low-wage workers and their allies delivered more than a million petitions to McDonald’s corporate headquarters demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage for its workers and the right to unionize late last week at the company’s annual shareholders meeting.

The petition delivery was the culmination of two days of protests at McDonald’s Oak Brook headquarters—the largest that has taken place there.

“It’s impossible to provide any stability for my son on the $7.50 an hour McDonald’s pays me,” said Safiyyah Cotton, a 22-year-old employee from Philadelphia. “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.”

Though the fast food giant recently raised wages by $1.00 for employees at locations owned directly by the company, demonstrators have called that move a publicity stunt.

Additionally, McDonald’s has come under fire for its labor practices. Ten former employees filed a civil rights lawsuit in Virginia alleging racial discrimination and sexual harassment, and workers in three other states have filed class action lawsuits alleging wage theft. Additionally, the chain faces more than two dozen complaints in 19 cities over potential OSHA violations stemming from workers being burned on the job.

The movement to raise minimum wages to $15 an hour has gained significant victories in the past few years. Just this week, Los Angeles became the largest city yet to raise its wage to $15 an hour. And while one of the most usual criticisms of raising the minimum wage significantly is that companies couldn’t afford it, workers say that behemoths like McDonald’s can. “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,” said Kwanza Brooks, a member of the Fight for 15 National Organizing Committee.

Much like the nation’s largest private employer Walmart, McDonald’s spends billions on stock buybacks. According to a recent paper from the Harvard Business Review, stock buybacks, where a company repurchases its own stock to increase its value, are “a major contributor to income inequality.” From 2005-2014, McDonald's spent nearly $30 billion on buybacks and plans to increase the practice as part of its “turnaround” plan. It will “return $8 [billion] to $9 billion to shareholders in 2015 to reach the top end of its three-year target of returning $18 billion to $20 billion to them by the end of 2016.”

So while executives and shareholders—along with the banks and investment management firms on Wall Street that broker the deals—will benefit greatly, next to nothing will go to the average worker.

“We may not have a seat in the room, but we’re sure that McDonald’s will hear us when we say that its turnaround needs to include investment in and respect for its employees,” said Adriana Alvarez, a five-year McDonald’s employee who was arrested during a sit-in at last year’s shareholder meeting.