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Workers Arrested at McDonald's HQ Protesting Low Wages

Workers protest in front of McDonald's HQ
Protesting workers face off with police at McDonald's HQ on May 21, 2014. Photo/Chris Dilts

OAK BROOK, Illinois – After 32 busloads of restaurant workers invaded McDonald’s Corp. headquarters yesterday to protest low wages paid by fast-food chains, police officers in riot gear arrested 110 for not heeding warnings to disperse.

The protesters, organized by Service Employees International Union, demonstrated their power under union leadership by holding signs that stated, “We Are Worth More” and “My Union My Voice.” The demonstration began at 1 p.m. local time Wednesday, the eve of McDonald’s shareholder meeting.

Fast-food workers have held demonstrations and strikes for the past two years at McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell outlets across the country, demanding their employees be paid $15 an hour, instead of usual minimum wage. This month new demonstrations have cropped up overseas.

Bloomberg News reported today that the uniformed store employees were arrested, along with 36 community, clergy and labor leaders for trespassing on company property. McDonald’s had ordered barricades to stop the demonstrators from disrupting the company’s shareholder meeting. Ahead of the protest, McDonald’s encouraged most of its 3,200 corporate employees to work from home because of traffic concerns around its five headquarter buildings.

When McDonald’s closed their main facility housing its U.S. business and employing 2,000 people, the protestors changed their course of action. They instead targeted the franchisor’s Hamburger University, a training school for new franchisees. Union officials were not pleased with the closure. “The closing reflects McDonald’s refusal to address the growing concerns of workers and failure to take action to raise wages,” Deivid Rojas, communications director for the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, said in a statement. Protestors planned to return to McDonald’s headquarters today when the shareholders began their meeting.

While McDonald’s emphasized in a statement that it respected the workers’ right to peacefully demonstrate and to choose whether they want to join a union, the company is “focused on welcoming our shareholders tomorrow.”

McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain, also explained that it was “contending with sluggish demand and increasing competition,” the Bloomberg report said. The chain currently has 35,400 restaurants worldwide. McDonald’s has over 14,000 stores in the U.S. and 90 percent of those are owned by franchisees. 

Spokesperson Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said McDonald’s currently pays above the minimum wage in most cases, but raising pay to $15 an hour was unrealistic.

Richard Adams, president of Franchise Equity Group, a franchisee consulting and advocacy firm, said there is not room in a McDonald’s franchisee’s profit margins for a $15 minimum wage. “McDonald’s has no authority in the franchise relationship to dictate pay rates in franchised restaurants,” he said. 

The former McDonald’s franchise owner further explained, “The only way it could be done would be for McDonald’s to lower the rents and royalties charged to franchisees or issue some kind of rebate back to franchisees. Since rent and royalty payments from franchisees are a substantial portion of corporate income there would be less cash to return to McDonald’s  shareholders.”

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About Janet Sparks

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Janet Sparks is the former publisher of the Continental Franchise Review, an industry newsletter that covered the franchise community for over 30 years. She has also been a columnist for a leading franchise magazine for the past 13 years. Today she is an independent journalist who engages in investigative reporting, tackling complex issues that impact the franchise industry.

Janet can be reached at or at 303-799-7398.