Police arrested 139 protesters Thursday morning outside McDonald’s world headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill.
Those arrested were part of a demonstration of about 500 people on the fast-food giant’s main campus. They had gathered to demand a living wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.
Oak Brook police said the protesters were arrested for criminal trespass after a group crossed a police barricade. Officers made the arrests after the activists sat on the ground following an order to disperse.
The protest came a day before McDonald’s is to hold its annual shareholders meeting at the Oak Brook campus. A group of activist shareholders is expected to vote against CEO Donald Thompson’s $9.5 million pay package at that meeting. Protesters also plan to picket Thursday’s meeting from which the media has been excluded from attending.
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McDonald’s closed down part of its offices Wednesday, urging many staffers to work from home, in anticipation of the demonstration.
Police said 101 McDonald’s workers were arrested as well as 38 union organizers and members of the clergy.
One protester, Amanda Wenninghoff, 28, told the Guardian she travelled from Kansas City to attend the demonstration. She said she earns $8 an hour and hasn’t received a raise since she started working for the company in 2003.
“I have lived in my car with my kids because I haven’t had the wages to support a place for us to live,” she said. “I have friends who need life-saving surgery they can’t afford.”
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Wenninghoff added that the health insurance McDonald’s offers would cost $400 a month — about half of her monthly salary — and it would only cover her.
“It would be impossible for me to get by without government assistance,” she said. “The least they can do is pay us enough money so we can afford to live instead of putting it on the taxpayers.”
The Rev. Dr. William Barber II, head of the NAACP in North Carolina, was also on hand Wednesday.
"We can't treat corporations like people, and people like things," he told USA Today. "A living wage is a moral mandate, and it's time for McDonald's to pay fast-food workers their just due now."
McDonald’s has said it is not planning to make any changes to Thursday’s shareholders meeting in light of the protests.
"Folks have a right to protest peacefully and express their views," said Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, a company spokesperson. "We're gearing up for our annual business meeting tomorrow and welcoming our shareholders to campus.”
She told the Associated Press the protest was "very much a staged event."