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Fight For $15 Protests Target McDonalds, United Airlines Shareholders

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Fight for $15 movement took aim at shareholders meetings for two Chicago area corporate giants on Wednesday -- McDonald's and United Airlines -- as low-pay workers continued their push for a higher minimum wage.

Hundreds of McDonald's workers and other activists marched outside the fast food giant's corporate headquarters in Oak Brook as shareholders held their annual meeting. Protesters began gathering outside McDonald's headquarters around 7 a.m., and staged a boisterous protest as they chanted and marched outside the corporate campus.

Police shut down Jorie Boulevard for several hours to accommodate the protesters, who were marching as part of the "Fight for $15" movement.

Activists said McDonald's, the world's second largest private employer, fails to pay a living wage.

McDonald's workers demanded union rights and a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

"We're tired of living in poverty. Meanwhile, they get to build a new headquarters in downtown Chicago, which I'm pretty sure is pretty expensive; and we can't even afford to buy our children they toy that they want, or put food on the table, and that is absolutely unacceptable," Adriana Alvarez said.

McDonald's employee Betty Douglas said working for the fast food giant is like "modern-day slavery."

"It doesn't make any sense. We deserve dignity. We deserve $15 an hour. We deserve to be able to take care of our kids. My son, I can't even buy him any shoes," she said.

Protest organizers said, since the "Fight for $15" movement launched nearly five years ago, more than 20 million low-wage workers have received pay raises.

However, they said McDonald's hasn't done enough, and essentially is exploiting its front-line workforce while executives line their pockets.

In response to Wednesday's protest, McDonald's issued the following statement:

"Our commitment to the communities we serve includes providing opportunities for those who work in our restaurants to succeed at McDonald's and beyond. For hundreds of thousands, a job at McDonald's is their very first and our world-class training and education programs begin building the skills first time workers will need to succeed in the workforce. In recent years, we have raised pay and started offering paid time off at our company-owned restaurants. Additionally, eligible employees (at both company-owned and participating franchised restaurants) can take free high school completion classes, get upfront college tuition assistance and learn English as a second language. In just two years, we are proud that over 17,000 employees have participated in this extended learning. Together, these important investments in our people show why we are committed to being America's best first job."

There were no incidents during the protest, and no demonstrators tried to cross police lines to get onto the McDonald's headquarters campus.

Fight for $15 protesters also sought to send a message to United Airlines at the company's shareholder meeting at Willis Tower on Wednesday.

Airport workers – including baggage handlers, janitors, and security officers – were joined by leaders of the Service Employees International Union, which has been trying to unionize the employees of subcontractors hired by the airlines.

"O'Hare workers are coming together with other airport workers from major cities across the country, all fighting for a better life by sticking together and speaking out," SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff said.

The workers claim contractors hired by United undercut jobs at O'Hare, and undermine safety and security.

"We understand this is an important issue being raised in cities and states across the country. At United, we hold our vendors to the highest standards and require them to follow all applicable laws and regulations. Since we do not have a direct employer-employee relationship with our vendors' employees, we must rely on them to work with each other directly," United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said in an email.

SEIU officials said 30 airport workers and supporters were arrested at the United Airlines protest, including Balanoff. Police issued citations for blocking traffic.

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