'When we win 15 and a union it will change all our lives...' Video narrates why one McDonald's worker got herself arrested on May 22, 2014 at McDonald's HQ in Oak Brook, Illinois... Salt of the Earth meets the 21st Century?

The story is already international. McDonald's is one of the signal symbols around the planet Earth of America's globalization -- and the vicious labor policies of neoliberalism and the Ayn Rand economics that has dominated American economic and political ideology since the early 1980s.

So when thousands of McDonald's workers and their supporters gathered at the corporation's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois to protest during the annual shareholders meeting, it was bound to be big news. And since Oak Brook is so wealthy a town that some joke the high school should have a polo team, it was also the chance for Oak Brook police to don their Ninja outfits and look like Chicago cops or those tough TV cops who patrol the nation's cities.

The challenge to the protesters is that they couldn't protest on "private property." And since McDonald's is nothing if not about the sanctity of its private properties, the protests resulted in hundreds of arrests on the first day of the actions, which was May 21, 2014.

Protesters march into McDonald's "private property" on May 22, 2014 as part of the international organizing drive.And there are already thousands of narratives from the workers' side, even thought the story is still developing. Organizing in the 21st Century -- It's You Tube. It's Twitter. It's "social media".

And maybe it's "Salt of the Earth," the classic (and blacklisted) iconic labor film of the 1950s. It could be "Salt of the Earth meets the 21st Century", as some of us get the time to review our own histories and update the struggles of working people everywhere -- and always. Somehow, the treatment of workers remains similar whether in Arizona mines in the 1950s or under the Golden Arches in 2014. As I watched some of the narratives, in the back of my mind a line came... "My name is Esmeralda..." Our struggles are linked over generations, and across oceans and continents.

The video is one among hundreds of stories from May 22 and hundreds of thousands of stories of McDonald's workers from the USA and around the world. You can get it at:



Activists ended their two-day protest outside McDonald's Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters after the shareholders meeting on Thursday, but the pay issue they raised shows no signs of going away.

At Thursday's annual meeting, McDonald's CEO Don Thompson touched ever-so-briefly on the issue, even as 800 protesters outside marched to cement their $15-per-hour wage demand in the minds of investors in attendance. On Wednesday, an estimated 1,500 protesters gathered on the company campus, and 139 were arrested for intentionally crossing a police barricade.

The 1954 film "Salt of the Earth" was blacklisted during the union-busting and anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s. It remains one of the iconic union movies."We respect the fact that they want to challenge us relative to wages," Thompson told some 350 shareholders at the unexpectedly high-profile meeting. "We pay fair and competitive wages and we provide opportunity, and we provide job opportunities and training for those entering the workforce."

For McDonald's, the current strategy is clear: publicly position the company as a great first employer for young workers. Even as it avoids specifically addressing the minimum wage issue, it is eager to portray McDonald's as a great job and job-experience enabler for young folks in an uncertain economy.

"McDonald's is often a first job for many entering the workforce," Thompson said. "About one-third of our employees are 16 to 19." Thompson also noted that 60% are age 24 or under and 70% are part time. "We are proud that we open doors to opportunity."

But protesters said they were angered by the remarks, and some felt insulted.

"This isn't a starter job, and I'm not a teenager," said Ashona Osborne, 22, a mother and a McDonald's worker in Pittsburgh who makes $7.25 per hour. "This is my career, and I'm struggling to raise a family and provide for my son. That's not possible on $7.25. McDonald's needs to realize that the workforce has changed."

"I've been working for McDonald's for 10 years, and my hourly paycheck is the same now as it was my first day on the job: $7.35," said Cherri Delisline, a mother of four from Charleston, S.C. "McDonald's can keep on saying that we are teenagers, but saying it over and over again doesn't make it true."

The median age of fast-food workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is 29 for all workers and 32 for women. About 70% of all workers are age 20 or older, the bureau reports.

Thompson also boasted about McDonald's hiring 50,000 armed forces veterans last year and said the company has committed to hire another 50,000 this year. That, he said, is "the most of anyone in the industry."

During the question-and-answer session, Thompson ticked off a list of about a half-dozen top corporate executives at McDonald's who began their careers as restaurant "crew members" as the workers are known, including Tim Fenton, the chief operating officer; and Jeff Stratton, who is president of McDonald's USA.

Also during the Q&A, Ricardo Caceres, 42, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1993, lauded McDonald's for the opportunity it has given him. "I owe my success to McDonald's," said Caceres, who was brought to the meeting by McDonald's.

In a phone interview, he says, he started as a crew member and got promotions, even as McDonald's paid "many thousands" of his college costs. After working as director of operations for a McDonald's franchisee in the Los Angeles area, he's now preparing to buy his own franchise.

"I've saved money over the years while working for McDonald's, as I've been promoted to better and better positions," he says.

His starting wage: $4.25 an hour. At the time, he says, he was as a student in his early 20s and living with family.

Asked if he could now support his own family on the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, he hesitates, then says: "It would not be easy. But it has to be done, if that's the current situation you're in. And if you work hard, $7.25 is just a starting point."

It doesn't have to be that way, says Harry Moorhouse, owner of two fast-food restaurants in Detroit. He was not at the meeting, but feels strongly that restaurant owners can afford to pay higher wages.

Moorhouse told USA TODAY that for the past year or so he has paid his 14 full-time employees $15 an hour at his Moo Cluck Moo restaurants in the Detroit area. His employees also get one week of paid vacation after the first year and five paid sick days.

"We're making enough money," says Moorhouse. "It's the right thing to do."

Moorhouse says he started out paying $12 an hour and after a few months upped it to $15. He says his business can afford these wages, in part, because the turnover is so low. He says he has more than 400 rsums from folks wanting to work for him, "and I get lots and lots of calls."

He notes that one of his employees just bought her first house. "It's not much," he says, "but $15 is a livable wage."

In Moorhouse's favor vs. McDonald's, however, his businesses have been able to charge a buck or two more for his all-natural food than McDonald's. A burger, fries and a soft drink at his restaurants fetches about $7 or $7.50, he says. And his independent small business doesn't have to pay a big franchise fee to McDonald's or any other chain. Also, he says that his remodeling and start-up costs per store have been less than $100,000, rather than the $1.5 million to $2 million it might cost to build a new McDonald's store.

Back at the annual meeting, Thompson might have thought he had a rare moment to relax during the Q&A when Bob Liking, a middle school student from St. Charles, Ill., approached the microphone.

Liking said that he planned to do precisely as Thompson suggested, and start with an entry-level job at McDonald's some day after he reaches the legal working age of 16.

He said that he hoped to work his way up the fast-food giant's executive ranks. Then, he surprised Thompson by proclaiming, "Some day, I'd like to be considered for your job."

Without missing a beat, Thompson responded, "Bob, there are some days I'm ready to give it to you."


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