AND DAN FEIN
OAK BROOK, Ill. — Buoyed by the rising fight to raise the minimum wage and growing resistance to police brutality, some 2,500 McDonald’s workers and supporters from across the country marched and rallied outside the company’s corporate headquarters here May 20 and 21. McDonald’s stockholders were meeting there May 21.
“I make around 30 meals per hour and earn $7.25 per hour. I can’t even afford to buy one of the meals I make,” Amy Petite, 21, who works at Wendy’s in Knoxville, Tennessee, told the Militant.
Demonstrators said that as the movement grows, gains are being made. “We won better hours and five days a week where I work,” said Connie Bennett, a Chicago McDonald’s worker. “Before we were getting three or four days a week.”
“I was the first one to join,” said Donald Jenkins, 25, who works with Bennett. “At first I was skeptical. Then I got seriously involved. One of the reasons we are winning is because of the quantity of people we have now. McDonald’s is raising wages and we are getting stronger.”
The demonstration at the fast-food giant’s international center was larger than last year’s. The majority of protesters were Black youth. Caucasian and Latino workers also were present, including a farm workers contingent from Detroit.
Many were McDonald’s workers, but other fast-food, health care and retail workers marched too.
“I’ve worked at McDonald’s for two years and still make the minimum wage of $8.50,” said Brittany Mills, who came on one of the five buses from Detroit.
Three buses came from Milwaukee, three from New York, two from Georgia, and two from Kansas City, Missouri. Buses also came from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Virginia, North Carolina and other states. The largest contingent May 20 was workers from Chicago, who came to this suburb on buses.
Participants from New York wore hoodies with “I can’t breathe! Fight for $15” on the front and “Black Lives Matter. Fight for $15. Hands Up Don’t Shoot” on the back, connecting the fight against cop killings with the fight for higher wages.
“This is my third strike,” said McDonald’s worker Edica Reece, 26, from New York City. “I am also in Black Lives Matter and have been to the protests against police brutality. We are fighting for what we believe in.”
“I have been going to the protests and joining the strikers so we can pay bills,” said Duane Gary, 29, who works at Checkers in the Bronx and joined Fight for $15 a year ago.
“Chicago was the second city to go on strike after New York did in 2012,” Chicago McDonald’s worker Anita Alvarez told the rally on the first day of the protests. “We are here because we are winning. L.A. just passed a $15 minimum wage bill.”
The Los Angeles City Council voted May 19 to raise the minimum wage from $9 to $15 an hour by 2020. Almost 50 percent of workers there make less than $15 an hour.
When the crowd arrived at the driveway leading to the McDonald’s board meeting May 21, they surrounded a giant statue of a McDonald’s worker. A worker jumped on the statue’s platform and led chants.
A delegation of McDonald’s workers delivered 1.4 million signatures on a “$15 and a union” petition to the stockholders.
“We join you in this fight for $15 and a union,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told the rally. “We will make sure every Black life matters, and that immigrant families stop getting torn apart.”
Several speakers from the NAACP addressed the demonstrators.
McDonald’s dismissed the demonstrations as a publicity stunt by the SEIU. “The union has spent its members’ dues money in the past two years attacking the McDonald’s brand,” the company said in a prepared statement, “in an unsuccessful attempt to unionize workers.”
Junova Howard, 24, from Birmingham, Alabama, has worked at McDonald’s for only two months. “Before this I worked at Popeye’s where I made $7.25 an hour. They would promise increases but I never got it. I saw the fight going at McDonald’s and got a job there,” she told the Militant.
“I’ve worked for McDonald’s since I was 16 and I’m fed up,” said William Jeffery Jr., 20, a student and McDonald’s worker in Chicago. “They should pay $15 an hour. They are international and make a lot of money.” Jeffery’s supervisor called him to try to get him to work, but he refused. “All the managers are working today because we are here.”
Earlier this year after growing demands for a wage increase, McDonald’s announced it would raise pay for workers at company-owned restaurants — about 10 percent of the workforce — to $1 above the local minimum wage.
Some 750,000 people work at company- and franchise-owned McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S.
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