Nearly 140 people were arrested Wednesday when a protest about wages became heated at the McDonald's Corp. headquarters in Oak Brook, said Oak Brook police.
Between 1,000 and 1,500 protesters stormed the McDonald's campus in the afternoon as Oak Brook police, dressed in riot gear and holding clubs, ordered them to disperse. When they didn't listen, many were placed on police buses and charged with criminal trespassing. In the end, 138 were arrested.
Those arrested were later released and are expected to appear in court and face a fine, said police spokesman and officer George Peterson.
McDonald's employees are asking for their pay to nearly double to $15 per hour and for the ability to form a union without retaliation.
Minimum wage has been a hot political issue both statewide and nationally. President Barack Obama has been pushing to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which translates to about $15,000 a year, assuming a person works 40 hours a week. Illinois' minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.
Wages at all of the hamburger fast food restaurants are not the same, the company said.
"About 90 percent of our restaurants are franchised and run by owners of small- and medium-sized businesses who set their wages at their own restaurants," McDonald's spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said. "It very well could increase over time, but that was up to Capitol Hill, so we'll see what happens in the coming year."
The protest Wednesday, possibly the largest against the global chain, came a day before McDonald's annual shareholder meeting, which will go on as scheduled today.
Wages are one of the topics expected to be addressed at the annual meeting, where about 400 stockholders and company executives also will look at executive pay packages and marketing to children and minority communities.
Shareholder meetings offer the public a rare chance to confront top executives at major publicly traded companies. The meetings are attended by public pension fund managers, activist groups and religious organizations seeking to change corporate practices.
Companies vary in how they run their meetings. This year, McDonald's decided to not allow the media to attend in person. As in the past, the event is being webcast.
Although other fast food chains, such as Burger King and Taco Bell, use many of the same practices, McDonald's is a frequent target for critics because of its size and high profile.
In a statement, the company said it respects "everyone's right to peacefully protest." Later, Barker Sa Shekhem called the protest "very much a staged event" and said most of those who turned out weren't McDonald's workers.
Earlier Wednesday, protesters arrived at the corporate headquarters on 32 buses, armed with signs and bullhorns. They railed about how McDonald's is paying workers wages that are too low and demanded $15 per hour as they marched from Jorie Boulevard and Kroc Drive and onto the campus.
The group said in a statement that restaurant workers have held strikes and protests about six times in the last 18 months to challenge the company's median wage of $8.94 per hour.
The most recent protest is a preview of what the group said it plans for today's stockholders meeting.
Barker said the company Wednesday "adjusted work schedules" of some employees at the corporate headquarters in anticipation of the protest. One corporate building near the site of the protest was closed, and its nearly 2,000 employees and consultants were asked to work remotely. Another four campus buildings remained open with about 1,500 workers, Barker Sa Shekhem said.
The annual stockholders meeting has long been the target of many groups seeking attention for their causes, including one in 2009 where People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested over the treatment of animals killed and processed for menu items.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.