“I’m striking McDonald's because I want to feed my kids,” said Agnes, one of the hundreds of McDonald's workers who went on strike for better wages and one of the courageous workers who got arrested today outside the McDonald’s shareholders meeting.
I was blessed to have the opportunity to get arrested with close to 150 McDonald’s workers from all over the country. I had the opportunity to talk with about 20 young men and women who had all faced arrest for the first time to stand up for themselves and their families. The folks I talked with were from Charleston, S.C., Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Mo., Houston, Rockford, Peoria and of course Chicago.
The stories shared the same themes. People were working hard and not making ends meet. Most of the folks had children they were trying to raise. Two women were pregnant with their first children. In states where the minimum wage was $7.25 per hour, that’s what workers were paid. In Illinois, workers were paid $8.25 (the Illinois minimum wage). I talked with one woman who had worked for McDonald's for 17 years and was finally making $9 per hour.
The contrast between the workers struggling to make ends me and the fancy “McDonald’s campus” with its sculptured lawns, fancy bridges, and Hyatt hotel was striking. Clearly, the “campus” was paid for on the backs of low-wage workers. The staff leadership and large shareholders met behind closed doors, locking out workers and the media this year.
McDonald's can clearly do better. The entire fast food industry can do better. Restaurant chains have one of the highest income disparities between top managers and line workers, and McDonald's leads the way in disparity. This company could—and should—do better.
Workers yesterday demanded $15 per hour, plus the ability to join a union. These are reasonable demands, and ones the company could meet. But instead of taking initiative to develop a plan or even agreeing to meet with workers and their faith allies, McDonald's ordered us all arrested as trespassers on its fancy "campus" grounds.
The McDonald's workers I met are impressive. They are hardworking young people trying to care for their families. They are smart, and they understand that something has to change. And, they are courageous—they walked off the job and got themselves arrested. This is the kind of leadership we need to turn this nation around. Agnes, Thelma, Alexia, Michael, Justin and all other workers at McDonald's deserve to be paid a living wage so they can feed their kids.
If you believe that it's immoral to pay worker so low that they cannot even afford the basics to care for themselves and their kids, tell McDonald's to provide better pay to workers and let them join a union!