By Bob Chiarito
OAK BROOK, Ill. (Reuters) - Hundreds of fast-food workers demanding wage increases marched on Wednesday outside of the McDonald's Corp <MCD.N> headquarters in a Chicago suburb during the company's annual shareholder meeting.
The demonstrators were part of a larger, nationwide protest organized by the labor group "Fight for 15," which has regularly targeted McDonald's calling for higher pay and union rights for workers. Dozens of protesters also rallied outside of United Airlines <UAL.N> shareholder meeting in downtown Chicago.
"I saw my mother, who worked 30 years for Hardees, struggle on food stamps to raise her family and now I'm doing the same thing," said Terrance Wise, a 42-year-old from Kansas City who was protesting outside the McDonald's meeting.
Wise said he has worked at McDonald's for three years and still only earns $7.65 an hour for the full-time job. He said he also relies on food stamps to support his three daughters.
"Instead of paying their CEO $15 million, they should give him $10 million and pay their workers what’s right," he said. The Fight for 15 group's main demand is for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Chief Executive Steve Easterbrook earned $15.3 million in total compensation last year, according to company data.
Shareholders inside the McDonald's meeting did not ask about the protests during a question and answer session with company officials.
Easterbrook focused on the fast-food giant's plans for delivering food with UberEats and the roll out of new products.
The company said on Wednesday it invests in its workers by helping them to earn degrees and acquire on-the-job skills. In 2015, the company raised the average hourly pay to around $10 for workers in the restaurants it owns.
However, most U.S. McDonald's workers are employed by franchisees who set their own wages.
Workers' hopes for an increase in the $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage were dashed last year when Republicans retained control of Congress in the U.S. election. Opponents of raising the minimum wage say higher costs would force restaurants to cut hiring, and some businesses would not survive.
Still, voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington have approved state minimum wage increases, encouraging advocates to continue pressing their case at local levels. Workers on Wednesday also gathered outside of McDonald's near downtown Los Angeles.
Scores of protesters were arrested during a nationwide protest weeks after Republican Donald Trump won the White House in the November election. At various times on the campaign trail, Trump suggested U.S. workers were overpaid, but also that the minimum wage should be raised.
"I can't take care of my kids. We need to be paid a living wage," said Betty Douglas, a 59-year-old mother of three and McDonald's employee said on Wednesday in Oak Brook.
(Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago, Additional reporting by Anya George Tharakan in Bengaluru and Lucy Nicholson in Los Angeles; Editing by Frances Kerry)