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McDonald's symbolic gesture for women draws fire

McDonald's upside-down arches
McDonald's sign flips golden arches upside down to create a "W" for women 01:01

McDonald's (MCD) on Thursday flipped its famous golden arches logo upside down to resemble a "W" to mark International Women's Day. But the marketing stunt seems not to be resonating quite as the fast-food chain may have hoped, with some critics pressing the company to show its support for women by enhancing compensation for its mostly female workforce.

Among those deriding McDonald's signage flipping was Alexis Harrison, a worker for the chain from Riverview, Florida, and participant in the Fight for $15 campaign, which is supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

"McDonald's should pay its majority-female workforce a living wage. That's why we're fighting not just for $15 an hour, but for the right to a union so women can demand real protections and respect from McDonald's – not just a cheap PR stunt," Harrison said in an email provided by a public relations firm connected to the grass-roots movement. "It should offer paid leave so working moms can take care of sick children. It should provide child care, cover the cost of mammograms, or offer even basic health care so we can raise our families.

International Women's Day protests amplify feminism in Asia 01:26

McDonald's was among the corporations targeted by the union-supported Fight for $15 campaign that led to nationwide protests in 2012.   

McDonald's trademark arches are being displayed upside down across the company's media channels and at one of its franchises in Lynwood, California. The restaurant has been owned and operated for the past 30 years by Patricia Williams, who now works alongside two daughters.

The marketing campaign also inspired a #McFeminism reaction on social media, with several Twitter users calling on the company to pay its female and male workers a living wage.

A 2015 study from the University of California Berkeley Labor Center found that low-wage employees such as those working at McDonald's and Walmart (WMT) were increasingly relying on government programs such as food stamps to keep them out of dire poverty.

In an emailed statement touting its celebration of International Women's Day,  McDonald's said: "In the U.S. we take pride in our diversity, and we are proud to share that today six out of 10 restaurant workers are women." 

Asked to respond to criticism that it underpays workers, a McDonald's spokesperson said the corporation "recently enhanced a number of employee benefits, including an increase in our maternity and paternity leave policy for corporate and company-owned restaurants."

The vast majority, or more than 90 percent, of McDonald's 37,000 locations around the world are owned and operated by individuals, rather than the corporation. 

Employees will wear shirts depicting the "W" logo on shirts and hats, which will be seen on packaging at 100 McDonald's stores around the U.S., the company said.

"Today in the U.S., 62 percent of McDonald's employees are female, six out of 10 of restaurant managers are women and we have one of the largest supplier diversity programs designed to support our global operations," Wendy Lewis, global chief diversity officer and vice president of global community engagement for McDonald's, wrote in a blog post.

Other corporations on the "celebrate women" bandwagon of late include toy maker Mattel (MAT), which debuted 17 "role Model" Barbies, including one outfitted as Amelia Earhart and another NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson. 

Liquor company Diageo introduced its limited edition "Jane Walker" scotch whiskey in late February, tying it to Women's History Month and International Women's Day and in a statement touting that "nearly 50 percent of the brand's 12 expert blenders are women."

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