Protesters target McDonald’s before annual meeting

Fast Food Protests

NEW YORK (AP) — Hundreds of protesters calling for higher pay for fast-food workers are expected outside McDonald’s headquarters Wednesday.

The demonstration comes ahead of the fast-food chain’s annual shareholders meeting Thursday, where it is also expected to be confronted on issues including its executive pay packages and marketing to children.

Early Wednesday, protest organizers changed the location of their demonstration after learning that McDonald’s cleared out the building where they had planned their actions.

McDonald’s says it closed the building to assist police in handling the protest and related traffic.

While other chains such as Burger King and Taco Bell share in many of the same practices, McDonald’s Corp. is often the target of critics on a range of issues because of its high profile and size.

The fast-food protests in particular have put the world’s biggest hamburger chain in an unwelcome spotlight since they began in New York City more than a year ago. The push is intended to bring attention to the working conditions of fast-food workers and is being backed by the Service Employees International Union, which has more than 2 million members.

While turnout for the protests has varied, they’ve nevertheless struck a chord at a time when the gap between the rich and poor has widened and many middle-income manufacturing jobs have vanished. Executive pay packages are coming under greater scrutiny as well, with shareholders recently voting against Chipotle Mexican Grill’s compensation of $25.1 million and $24.4 million for its co-CEOs. That “say-on-pay” vote was advisory and non-binding, but could make the chain rethink its practices.

Last year, McDonald’s Corp., which is far bigger than Chipotle, gave CEO Don Thompson a pay package worth $9.5 million.

President Obama has also been trying to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which was last increased in 2009. The rate translates to about $15,000 a year, assuming a person works 40 hours a week. But most fast-food workers are given far fewer hours, in part because restaurant owners want to avoid paying overtime and limit the number of employees who receive benefits, if they are offered.

Shareholder meetings offer the public a rare chance to confront top executives at major publicly traded companies. While ordinary investors typically don’t attend, the meetings are frequented by public pension funds, activist groups and religious organizations seeking to change corporate practices.

Companies vary in how they run their annual meetings. This year, McDonald’s decided to not allow members of the media to attend in person. As in the past, however, the meeting is being webcast.

PepsiCo Inc., based in Purchase, New York, has a designated space for media outside its annual meeting and cuts off its webcast before the question-and-answer period, during which executives are often faced with difficult questions.

During that portion of the McDonald’s meeting last year, a 9-year-old girl made headlines after she stood and asked CEO Thompson to stop “tricking” kids into eating the company’s food.

The girl was in attendance with her mother, who was with the group Corporate Accountability.

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Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi

 

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