McDonald's CEO Says He’s 'Incredibly Proud' of Pay Hike Amid Protests
David Bates, 18, a McDonald’s worker from New Orleans, protests outside the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill. Photo: Reuters
NEW YORK — McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said Thursday he was “incredibly proud” of a recent decision to bump pay for some workers, even as hundreds of protesters outside called on the company to do more ahead of its annual shareholder meeting.
Easterbrook, who stepped into his role in March, is fighting to revive sluggish sales and convince people that McDonald’s is a “modern, progressive burger company.” But the push comes at a time when protests targeting McDonald’s over low wages have been spreading around the country.
Easterbrook said at the meeting in Oak Brook, Ill., that he was proud of the decision announced last month to raise pay for workers at company-owned stores to $1 above the local minimum wage, as well as offer help with college tuition to workers at all stores.
Labor organizers and workers have dismissed the move on pay in part because they say it leaves so many workers out in the cold. The vast majority of the more than 14,300 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. are owned by franchisees.
On Thursday, protesters delivered a petition of support to McDonald’s that organizers said had 1.4 million signatures.
During the meeting, the company got support from at least one shareholder, who stood to note that actress Sharon Stone and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos were among those who have worked at McDonald’s. If the chain paid $15, he said, those people would still be working at McDonald’s.
Thousands of activists and workers march near the McDonald’s headquarters. Photo: AP
Members of Corporate Accountability, a regular critic of McDonald’s marketing practices, also stood to repeat their request that the company retire Ronald McDonald and stop marketing to children.
But Easterbrook defended the company’s use of the red-headed clown, who he noted recently got a new outfit that makes him feel “trendier.”
“With regards to Ronald, Ronald’s here to stay,” Easterbrook said.
Shareholders also approved a proposal to nominate directors. The UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, which filed the proposal, had said the costs to make nominations could be “prohibitive” under the current system.
Institutional Investor Services and Glass Lewis, two proxy advisory firms, had backed the proposal.
McDonald’s had opposed the proposal, which it said could enable shareholders with “special interests” to nominate directors and “introduce a potentially expensive and destabilizing dynamic” into its board election process.
Hundreds also protested on Wednesday, drawing people from around the country.
The Rev. William Barber of Goldsboro, North Carolina, said the campaign extends beyond pushing for a living wage. He called it a fight for racial equality, noting people of color are disproportionally working in low wage jobs.
Corey Anderson, 21, who works at a Chicago McDonald’s, said he makes $8.25 an hour after working for the fast-food chain for more than two years. That’s not enough to live on after rent and utilities are paid, he said.
“I feel like they don’t understand what it’s like to make what we make,” he said.
Sa Shekhem said the company respects the right to protest.
“When it comes it comes to the minimum wage, that is a national discussion, that is not a McDonald’s issue, it’s an economic issue,” she said. “We’ll look to the folks in Washington to determine what happens.”
Protesters calling for pay of $15 an hour and a union march toward McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill. Photo: AP
Earlier this year, McDonald’s said it would raise its starting pay for workers to $1 above the local minimum wage. Labor organizers said the move falls short because it only applies to company-owned stores.
McDonald’s Corp. owns about 10 percent of its stores in the U.S., while the rest are run by franchisees.
The protests come as McDonald’s fights to hold onto customers amid intensifying competition from smaller rivals and changing tastes.