Hundreds of protesters returned Thursday to the McDonald's Corp. headquarters to continue their chants for higher wages for workers, while the company's top executives said during their annual meeting that wages were competitive and entry level positions often lead to more opportunities.
About 600 protesters marched during a more peaceful demonstration and no arrests were made. That contrasted to Wednesday's skirmish when 138 people were arrested after more than 1,000 stormed the McDonald's campus, according to Oak Brook police.
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"We have hundreds of fast-food workers from all across the country," said Kendall Fells, the organizing director of Fast Food Forward. "What this is really about is them getting $15 an hour and getting a union."
Meanwhile, inside at the shareholder meeting, McDonald's CEO Don Thompson said that he and other executives worked their way up the ranks at McDonald's and the company will continue to provide fair wages and opportunities for its workers.
"We see what many don't see as we travel around the world, in the United States and in other places," Thompson said. "You'll see an hourly employee who moved to swing manager, and then in three or four years they'll show up for a supervisor's class. Then later, they want to own their own restaurant. We provide more opportunities than any place we've ever seen.
"We have some people outside, and we respect that fact that they want to challenge us regarding wages," Thompson said. "We pay competitive wages, provide opportunities and training in the workforce. We have provided it over time and will continue to do so."
Outside, Fells said a lot of the workers nationwide are living in poverty. "So now they're standing up and fighting." He said protesters came from cities nationwide. While hundreds of the protesters work for McDonald's, Fells said there are many who work for other fast-food chains.
"This is a fight against the industry, but McDonald's is the leader," he said. "So that's why we brought it here to them."
On Thursday, protesters chanted slogans, held up signs and banged drums as they stood near the entrance to the McDonald's campus. Fells said the hope was to get the attention of the shareholders as they drove past. Organizers wanted the McDonald's shareholders to understand that there are McDonald's employees living in poverty.
"These workers are making decisions between should I swipe my card and get on the Metro for $2.50, or should I make sure my daughter has lunch today?" Fells said.
Fells said the fast-food industry is the fastest growing industry in the country.
"These are the jobs of the future," he said. "So if we let them continue to pay people poverty wages, the economy is going to stay stagnant. If we get to $15 an hour, then we can get this economy back running again."
Most protesters were from other cities and worked at other companies.
Ravon Herbert, 24, of Kansas City, works for Wendy's. "I live on poverty wages," said Herbert. "I live paycheck to paycheck."
Raina Rayn James, 27, of Detroit, used to work as a manager at McDonald's. "You can't live off $7.95 (an hour) and provide for your household and buy your kids everything they need," she said. "So we're just fighting back to say, 'We appreciate you giving us a job, but at the same time raise our wages. Show us appreciation for what we do.'"
Charell Truitt, 23, of Detroit, who works for McDonald's, said the pay should be increased to at least $15 an hour.
"Because at this point," she said, "we can barely pay rent. We can barely save. We're not getting anywhere by living check to check."
Omar Freckleton, 31, of New York City, said he's struggling to get by on the money he earns working at McDonald's. He said seeing the McDonald's campus for the first time only reinforces his belief the corporation could afford to pay its workers more money.
"This is a dreamland," Freckleton said. "It's different from where I live."
Oak Brook police said Thursday that 17 buses loaded with marchers had included members of the Service Employees International Union. Demonstrators assembled for a short time on the bike path and dispersed by 8:30 a.m.
Meanwhile, McDonald's executives address various concerns from shareholders and advocates to add more healthier choices, more lower priced options, and provide more recycled cups or sustainable methods.
Sriram Madhusoodanan, an organizer with Boston-based Corporate Accountability International, accused the company of spending billions of dollars on sponsorships, marketing and executive compensation while many employees can "barely make ends meeting on poverty wages."
Thompson countered that the wages were fair.
In turn, some employees who worked their way up the ranks proudly said they stand by the company, including Ricardo Caceres of Los Angeles.
He got his first job at McDonald's in Los Angeles and moved up the ranks and is now ready to buy a franchise. He said he'd like to see the company continue to offer the same opportunities to other employees so they can "grow in the system."
Then a young boy named Bob Liking got up before the meeting and said he's interested in working for McDonald's and is interested in one day taking over Thompson's job.
"And on some days I'm ready to give it to you, buddy," Thompson said.