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Friday, 23 May 2014 05:49

Protesting McDonald's Workers Give Shareholders a Big Mac Attack

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amcdseiu(Photo: SEIU)

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A week after a boisterous day of global protests against the financial exploitation of fast food workers in most nations, the rapidly growing movement spread to the annual meeting of McDonald's. With a demand to "McDouble Our Wages," an estimated 500-2000 protesters from around the Midwest gathered at the sprawling headquarter campus of the empire that Ray Kroc built (located in the western Chicago suburb of Oak Brook).

According to The Chicago Tribune, on Wednesday, "138 individuals, including 101 McDonald’s workers, were arrested for trespassing on the company’s property." Workers at the chain of low-cost non-nutritious processed food pit stops put their jobs on the line for a livable salary.

The statement accompanying McDonald's 2013 annual report boasts that while weathering some financial challenges, it generated a healthy bottom line:

  • Consolidated revenue increase of 2 percent (2 percent in constant currencies)

  • Consolidated operating income increase of 2 percent (3 percent in constant currencies)

  • Diluted earnings per share of $5.55, up 4 percent (4 percent in constant currencies)

  • Return of $4.9 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases

Barry Ritholtz, a BloombergView columnist, recorded some facts about earners making the minimum wage:

Last month, we discussed McDonald's and Wal-Mart as America’s biggest [abusers of welfare]. As it turns out, both giants are the beneficiaries of a surprising amount of federal aid: Their employees receive an inordinate amount of Medicaid, food stamps and other public assistance. This allows them to maintain very low wages, and keep profits relatively robust...

A full-time worker (40 hours a week) in the U.S. making minimum wage earns only $15,080 a year. For some context, median individual earnings are $40,404 a year (BLS), while the U.S. poverty level is $23,550 (HHS). Full-time minimum wage earners make 62.7 percent less than median income and are 36.0 percent below the poverty level. (The number you probably hear quoted most often is median household income at $51,017, according to the census. The minimum is 70.4 percent below that).

This is when Ritholtz deftly pivots to dispelling the myth of big corporations bringing prosperity to the people of the United States:

Employees of the [fast food] industry receive more taxpayer aid than any other sector.

Just how much? More than half (52 percent) of the families of fast-food workers receive some form of public assistance. That’s more than double the rate of the workforce as a whole. Most of it is through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program ($4 billion), while the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program are the rest ($3 billion).

Of the 3.9 million fast-food employees in U.S., the biggest group of workers are employed by McDonald’s. Estimates are their employees have received public assistance of about $1.2 billion a year since 2007. [Italics inserted by BuzzFlash] (Source: University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

If you like the low prices at McDonald's, just remember that the taxes you pay are subsidizing that nearly $5 billion the company distributed to shareholders last year. After you realize that, the McValue meals do not sound like such a bargain anymore.

Of course, the 1% are making a bundle off of taxpayers subsidizing McDonald's. But what about the rest of us?

The Service Employees International Union is lending some strategic assistance to the fast food workers growing brushfire of resistance. (SEIU President Mary Kay Henry was one of those arrested in Oak Brook) Some other organized labor organizations are following suit. Still, there is a marked feeling of a grassroots uprising at work here. This is the kind of pocketbook frustration and rage that just needed a bit of stoking, because for many workers, survival is at stake.

Just before the McDonald's annual meeting demonstration, USA Today provided an example of the plight of many fast food employees:

A McDonald's worker with six children who says that she's been on food stamps for the 10 years that she's worked at McDonald's, says she's taking a bus to Chicago with other protesters from Kansas City, Mo. "They're making billions ... but we sweep their floors; take out their trash and service their customers," says Melinda Topel, 43, who typically works at the drive-thru cash register. "We don't deserve to live in poverty and to worry about our lights being cut off."

Stories such as this are fueling a gritty robust rebellion among workers paid poverty wages.

After the arrests on Wednesday at McDonald's world headquarters, protesters returned on Thursday. As The Chicago Tribune reported:

Hundreds of protesters pushing for higher fast food wages returned to protest outside McDonald's Corp.’s headquarters Thursday as activists attending the world's largest hamburger chain’s annual meeting peppered executives with questions on topics ranging from marketing practices to employee compensation.

Thursday’s smaller protest near the company’s Oak Brook campus came after a Wednesday afternoon march and protest.

The fantasy world of Ronald McDonald being a playful friend of children and families is under siege. After all, the balloons that he hands out to children can't feed them. 

A wave of outrage is building into a sea of sustained protest.

The balloons of a fabricated brand image may be about to burst.

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