Hundreds of protesters rally before McDonald’s shareholder meeting

Demonstration organized by fast-food labor campaign forces McDonald’s restaurant near company headquarters to shut down

McDonald's closed a restaurant near its headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, on Wednesday after the area was swamped by hundreds of protesters calling for a minimum pay of $15 an hour and the right to unionize.

The restaurant was closed because of traffic concerns, said Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, a spokeswoman for McDonald's. The fast-food company told employees in a building targeted by protesters that they should work from home, she said.

The start of the two-day demonstration comes ahead of the company's annual shareholder meeting on Thursday. During last year’s meeting, McDonald's also closed a building because of the protest, and more than 100 people were later arrested after refusing to leave corporate property.

Laura Rollins, 63, told Al Jazeera she arrived from Miami to join the protests because she finds herself "struggling just to make ends meet" on her wages from McDonald's.

"I make $8.45 an hour, and it took me five years to get up to that amount," she said.

Noting that McDonald's has spent an estimated $30 billion over the past decade repurchasing stock, she said, "They should have been spreading that money around for the workers. Without us, they wouldn't have $30 billion."

The campaign for a $15 minimum hourly wage and a union began in late 2012 and has involved a range of tactics, including demonstrations around the country. Since then, numerous cities and states have approved minimum wage increases; most recently, the Los Angeles City Council voted on Tuesday to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Earlier this year, McDonald's said it would raise its starting pay for workers to $1 above the local minimum wage. Labor organizers said the move falls short in part because it applies only to company-owned stores.

McDonald's Corp. owns about 10 percent of its stores in the U.S., and the rest are owned and run by franchisees. The company has said that it does not share responsibility for wages and working conditions at franchised locations, but labor activists and the National Labor Relations Board have argued that the company exerts sufficient control over its franchises to be considered a joint employer.

The protests come as McDonald's fights to hold on to customers amid intensifying competition from smaller rivals and changing tastes. CEO Steve Easterbrook, who stepped into the role in March, has said he wants to transform McDonald's into a "modern, progressive burger company."

This week's shareholder meeting will be his first as CEO.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter