About 2,000 fast food workers rallied to McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois today to demand the right to unionize and a $15 minimum wage — and at least 101 of them got arrested, according to protest organizers. Some three dozens supporters who had joined the protest were also arrested.
'We are not just fighting for wages, we're fighting for dignity and respect also.'
The rally was part of a nationwide movement for better work conditions for low-wage workers in the fast food industry that also saw demonstrations in 150 cities and 30 countries last week — the largest fast food strike to date.
Today, protesters chanted slogans like “Hey McDonald’s You Can’t Hide, We Can See Your Greedy Side,” and “No Big Macs, No Fries, Make our Wage Supersize,” a day ahead of the company’s annual shareholders meeting.
As they walked into the company’s campus they were confronted by a barricade of police in riot gear. As protesters started sitting down, police issued two orders to disperse.
Tyree Johnson, a 46 year-old McDonald’s worker from Chicago was among those arrested and charged with trespassing.
“They said if you don’t step away from the property we will put you under arrest, so we sat down and one by one they picked us up,” he told VICE News after being released. “We stood our ground and took the arrest.”
Johnson, who worked at the fast food chain for 22 years and said he still makes “poverty wages,” pledged to be back tomorrow, for the next round of protests planned by organizers.
"We won't stop until we get our demands, $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation," he said. "And respect, that's the most important thing. We are not just fighting for wages, we're fighting for dignity and respect also."
Video by Wojtek Gil
Video via Instagram
"We went on strike, we protested, we asked politely and now we got arrested to make sure McDonald’s hears us,” Ashona Osborne, an employee of a Pittsburgh McDonald’s said in a statement shared by organizers. “I came to McDonald’s shareholders meeting because I want the company to take me seriously and know that I'm a mother who is sick of struggling to support her son."
Workers had announced their intention to take their demands straight to McDonald’s headquarters earlier this week, but changed the location of their protest after managers at the chain closed that building.
“We are bound morally to stand up, fight and demand living wages for workers,” Rev. Dr. William Barber II, who led the march onto McDonald’s campus, said in the same statement. “We can’t treat corporations like people, and people like things. A living wage is a moral mandate, and it’s time for McDonald’s to pay fast-food workers their just due now.”
McDonald's officials said the company remains focused on welcoming shareholders to McDonald’s annual meeting.
"We respect everyone’s rights to peacefully protest. Today’s protest was a staged event in which organizers bussed in people from other areas. A miniscule number of McDonald’s employees have participated in these events," Lisa McComb, McDonald’s media relations director said in an email to VICE News.
'Fast food is not only the fastest growing industry in the country, it’s also the lowest paying industry in the country, and it has the broadest gap between what the workers and the CEOs make.'
Shareholders meetings are frequently attended by groups of workers and activists. This year, McDonald's decided to keep the event close to the press.
The fast food workers' movement was born in New York in 2012 but has grown exponentially in recent months, as protests have multiplied across the country.
“Fast food is not only the fastest growing industry in the country, it’s also the lowest paying industry in the country, and it has the broadest gap between what the workers and the CEOs make," Kendall Fells, the organizing director at Fast Food Forward, a New York group behind the campaign, told VICE News ahead of last week's rallies. "What kind of country are we about to have when these are all the jobs that are available to our kids?”
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi