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Minimum Wage Workers Camp In Front Of McDonald's Shareholders Meeting

By aaroncynic in News on May 26, 2016 3:27PM

Fast food and other low wage workers took their demands for better pay and union rights directly to a major source of their ire Wednesday and Thursday, descending on McDonald’s corporate headquarters in suburban Oak Brook.

More than a thousand demonstrators briefly marched outside the fast food beheamoth’s annual shareholders meeting, trudging through a torrential downpour to tell the company that because it rakes in billions in profits, it can pay workers a living wage. The rain didn’t dampen the resolve of many of the workers, who set up tents to spend the night in front of offices in a business park just off the highway while the wind whipped sheets of water around them.

“It’s unfortunate that I work full time for one of the largest employers and I have to endure this,” said George McCray, a McDonald’s employee from Chicago’s South Side who became homeless in December 2015. “There’s not enough money to pay bills. I work and still don’t make wages to pay my rent.”

McCray said it’s unjust that the company rakes in a massive amount of profits while he and his family have to bounce back and forth between the homes of relatives.

“Considering I wake up everyday, get up on time, work hard, don’t miss a day and they just made a billion dollars, if not more, the first quarter of this year and I can’t afford to pay rent, that doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

The McDonald’s annual shareholders meeting has been a target of Fight For 15 demonstrations for a few years now, and workers from all over the country travel to demonstrate outside it for living wages and union rights. While the movement began with fast food workers, it now encompasses workers from many low-wage economic sectors such as retail, warehouse workers, care providers, security guards, airport workers and more. As one of the largest employers in the world that continually reports record profits, the company has become a symbol of the fight for better wages for all workers. In 2015, McDonald’s was the 4th largest employer in the world, with a total of 1.9 million employees, just behind Walmart’s 2.1 million. At the end of the first quarter of 2016, the company reported $1.1 billion in profits.

“I’ve been working for this billion dollar company for nine years and I only make $7.90 (an hour),” said Betty Douglas, a McDonald’s employee in St. Louis who traveled to Chicago. I have to choose between bills and food. I think it’s ridiculous they made a billion already. It’s unfair—we just want McDonald’s to be fair.”

Fairness or sharing a wealth of profits however, does not appear to be on the minds of McDonald's wealthy, high-level executives. On Tuesday, former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi gave a “love it or else” ultimatum to struggling workers in an interview with the Fox Business Network, according to the Inquisitr. “It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries—it’s nonsense and it’s very destructive and it’s inflationary and it’s going to cause a job loss across this country like you’re not going to believe,” said Rensi.

But the fight for better wages for workers however, didn’t spur the robot revolution; it was already on its way. In their quest to maximize profits for shareholders, companies have been looking into automation to replace workers for years. McDonald's introduced thousands of touch-screen ordering systems to its restaurants in 2011. There's also a company, called Momentum Machines, that wants to fully-automate the production of gourmet hamburgers—meaning a machine would make the burgers from start to finish, not an individual cook.

Alvin Major, a KFC worker from New York City who was one of the first fast food workers that joined the movement in 2012, said that low wages for front line workers while CEO’s and investors rake in big profits is an unfortunate part of the culture.

“The corporate culture is to make as much profit while investing as little as possible,” Major said.

Major, who has traveled to protests at the shareholder’s meeting before, said that their continued fight and tenacity has had an impact. Several cities across the country and a couple of states have adopted higher minimum wages, some at $15 an hour. “We got a $15 minimum wage in New York City...We saw progress in Seattle, California, right here in Chicago,” said Major. “This is what we do.”

McCray said McDonald’s shareholders need to listen.

“When you wake up in the morning and you see that tent,” said McCray, gesturing towards the tent he erected with a sign on the front describing his situation, “I want you to understand that we’re not out here for nothing. We are out here because you’re in there, laughing at us, and I work for you. I would appreciate when you sit down at your shareholders meeting, you discuss this.”