Over one hundred McDonald’s and other fast food employees demonstrating for wage hikes were arrested Wednesday afternoon one day ahead of the fast food king’s annual shareholder meeting, in which executive pay will be addressed.
A total of around 2,000 protestors gathered at McDonald’s corporate campus Wednesday afternoon in Oak Brook, Illinois to support a $15 hourly wage and the right to unionize. Protestors arrived in dozens of buses and lined up front of heavily armed police.
“We cannot survive on poverty wages. We need our wages to be increased and we need a union to have protection in the workplace and take care of our families,” 25-year-old McDonald’s employee Jessica Davis told TIME. She makes an hourly salary of $8.98 an hour. “McDonald’s is my only job. It’s really hard taking care of two children and paying the bills.”
Protestors called it the largest labor demonstration against the world’s largest fast food company.
McDonald’s told TIME last week that wages are set by local market conditions, adding that 80% of its restaurants are independently-owned and operated by small business owners. “McDonald’s and our owner-operators are committed to providing our respective employees with opportunities to succeed, and we have a long, proven history of providing advancement opportunities for those who want it,” said Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, a spokesperson for the company.
Protestors said the 139 arrested demonstrators included clergy and organizing leaders like Rev. Donna Simon from St Mark Church in Kansas City and Service Employees International Union President.
McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson took home total compensation of $9.5 million in 2013, Reuters reports. The CEO-to-worker compensation ratio in the fast food industry was more than 1,000-to-1 in 2013.
Protestors claimed that the company shut the headquarters down altogether in order minimize a “public relations minefield” in the face of demonstrations. McDonald’s countered that claim, telling TIME it adjusted its headquarters’ working hours Wednesday for logistical reasons.
The demonstrations come as wage organizers ramp up pressure on fast food chains. President Obama has advocated raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from the current $7.25, and global protests last week drew additional attention to the cause.
“I’d be willing to be arrested,” Daisha Mims, a Memphis McDonald’s employee and mother of three who makes $7.60 told TIME. “We’re fighting for $15 to better support our families.”