(Reuters) - Hundreds of low-wage McDonald's workers protested near the fast-food chain's headquarters on Wednesday calling for a significant pay hike as shareholders prepare to weigh in on the company's executive compensation.
The McDonald's workers are calling for roughly a doubling of pay to $15 per hour and the right to unionize. Their frequent rallies have helped fuel a national debate on pay inequality at a time when many middle- to low-income Americans have curtailed spending to help make ends meet.
The latest, and possibly largest, protest against the world's biggest fast-food company comes a day ahead of an investor vote on executive pay at McDonald's Corp (MCD.N), where Chief Executive Don Thompson took home total compensation of $9.5 million in 2013.
Jessica Davis, a 25-year-old McDonald's crew trainer with two children, said CEO Thompson is earning his millions on the backs of working mothers and fathers.
Davis, who works at a Chicago McDonald's, says she earns $8.98 per hour and works part-time despite requests for more hours.
"We need to show McDonald's that we're serious and that we're not backing down," said Davis, who joined Wednesday's protest, which was moved to an area near the planned shareholder meeting location after the company closed the headquarters building near Chicago targeted by protesters following a police consultation.
McDonald's, which is grappling with sagging U.S. sales and profit-crimping beef price spikes, does not disclose average pay for restaurant workers, most of whom work for franchisees.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 3.5 million fast-food and counter workers in the United States earn a median hourly wage of $8.83, or almost $18,400 per year based on a 40-hour work week without vacation.
A recent report from New York think tank Demos found that the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio for the fast food industry was more than 1,000-to-1 in 2013.
Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG.N) shareholders, in a non-binding vote, on May 15 voted more than 3-to-1 against the advisory pay proposal from the popular burrito seller, which gave co-CEOs Steve Ells and Monty Moran total 2013 compensation of $25.1 million and $24.4 million, respectively.
Thus far, public pension fund managers from New York City, Connecticut and the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) have said they plan to vote against the McDonald's advisory measure on executive pay.
The measure asks shareholders to vote on the way the company formulates compensation for its executives.
Officials of the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the Florida State Board of Administration said they would vote in support of the measure.
U.S. President Barack Obama has pushed Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25 currently.
Washington, D.C. and 21 states have minimum wages higher than the federal level, and 38 states have considered minimum wage bills during the 2014 session, the National Conference of State Legislatures said.
(Additional reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston,; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Andrew Hay)