OAK BROOK, Ill., May 26 (UPI) -- The worldwide headquarters of McDonald's in Oak Brook, Ill., was largely shut down on Wednesday as hundreds of protesters marched to demand higher wages.
Employees who work at the Chicago-area headquarters were told to work from home on Wednesday in anticipation of the planned protests, the third year in a row, ahead of McDonald's annual shareholders' meeting on Thursday.
"Employees were strongly encouraged to work from home and the majority of them are taking advantage of the opportunity," McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa McComb said.
McDonald's restaurant workers are seeking a $15-an hour minimum wage and increased benefits, including the right to unionize. The "Fight for $15" campaign began in 2012 and has contributed to increasing national dialogue over minimum wages. The effort is supported by the Service Employees International Union, which represents nearly 2 million workers in the United States and Canada.
"We really need to make more money," Antoinette Brown, 62, who works as a custodian, told the Chicago Tribune. "My husband is disabled, and it's hard to make it between his check and mine ... It shouldn't be harder now when I'm 62."
Edward Rensi, a former McDonald's chief executive, warned that raising the minimum wage would increase the likelihood that such jobs will be replaced by automated robots.
"I guarantee you if a $15 minimum wage goes across the country you're going to see a job loss like you can't believe," Rensi, McDonald's CEO from 1991 to 1997, told Fox Business Network on Tuesday. "It's cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who's inefficient making $15 an hour bagging French fries."
The World Economic Forum estimates that the rise in robotics and artificial intelligence will cause a net loss of 5.1 million jobs in the next five years.