McDonald's, other fast-food workers, protest ahead of annual meeting

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Thousands of McDonald's workers seeking a minimum wage of $15 per hour swarmed the fast-food giant's headquarters for the first of two days of protests to coincide with the fast-food chain's annual meeting on Thursday.

Protests by low-wage fast-food and retail workers have helped fuel a national debate about pay levels. Companies such as McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) are raising starting pay and cities like Seattle and Chicago are boosting their minimum wages over time.

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McDonald's, other fast-food workers, protest ahead of annual meeting
A demonstrator holds a sign as he participates in a rally near a McDonald's restaurant and the headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Labor activists seeking $15-an-hour wages marched on McDonald's headquarters on Wednesday, marking the second straight year of protests ahead of the fast-food chain's annual meeting. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators march past a McDonald's Corp. restaurant during a rally in Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Labor activists seeking $15-an-hour wages marched on McDonald's headquarters on Wednesday, marking the second straight year of protests ahead of the fast-food chain's annual meeting. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators march during a rally near McDonald's Corp. headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Labor activists seeking $15-an-hour wages marched on McDonald's headquarters on Wednesday, marking the second straight year of protests ahead of the fast-food chain's annual meeting. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators hold signs as they march during a rally near a McDonald's restaurant and headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Labor activists seeking $15-an-hour wages marched on McDonald's headquarters on Wednesday, marking the second straight year of protests ahead of the fast-food chain's annual meeting. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators march during a rally near McDonald's Corp. headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Labor activists seeking $15-an-hour wages marched on McDonald's headquarters on Wednesday, marking the second straight year of protests ahead of the fast-food chain's annual meeting. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 15: Demonstrators gather in front of a McDonald's restaurant to call for an increase in minimum wage on April 15, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The demonstration was one of many held nationwide to draw attention to the cause. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 15: Demonstrators gather in front of a McDonald's restaurant to call for an increase in minimum wage on April 15, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The demonstration was one of many held nationwide to draw attention to the cause. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A protester dressed as Ronald McDonald holds a sign at a rally in support of minimum wage increase in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Fast-food workers held rallies in 236 U.S. cities Wednesday in their biggest protest yet for higher pay and union rights. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Tyree Johnson, 47, of Chicago joined thousands of others for noisy but peaceful protests outside McDonald's headquarters in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook on Wednesday.

"They keep telling me they value me but they don't give me more money," said Johnson, who has worked in McDonald's restaurants since 1992 and says he lives in a men's hotel because he can't afford an apartment on his wage of $8.55 per hour.

"We respect their right to peacefully protest," McDonald's spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said. She said the world's largest restaurant chain regularly looks at the wage issue.

Steve Easterbrook, McDonald's new chief executive, last month announced that starting pay at company-operated restaurants would be set at $1 above the locally mandated minimum wage, beginning on July 1. By the end of 2016, McDonald's expects the average hourly pay rate to be above $10 per hour.

Those increases only apply to some 90,000 workers at the roughly 1,500 U.S. restaurants McDonald's operates. They do not affect around 660,000 other restaurant workers employed by U.S. McDonald's franchisees.

Some workers were quick to criticize the announcement, saying it was too little to make a real difference and affected too few workers.

The decision also angered some McDonald's restaurant operators, who said it would put additional cost pressure on franchisees struggling to maintain profits at a time when sales have been weakened by intense competition and internal missteps that have slowed service.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which backs the worker protests, also is pressuring McDonald's through legislative and regulatory channels.

On Wednesday, a group of top U.S. pension fund leaders warned that McDonald's and other companies may be jeopardizing their own futures by returning excessive amounts of cash to investors via share buybacks.

Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., currently have minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

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