McDonald's Corp. Chief Executive Officer Don Thompson, defending the fast-food chain after worker protests this week, said Thursday its restaurants pay a fair wage.
"We respect the fact that they want to challenge us relative to wages," Thompson told investors at the company's annual meeting in Oak Brook, Ill. "We pay fair and competitive wages and we provide opportunity, and we provide job opportunities and training for those entering the workforce."
Thompson fielded investor questions about the pay issue after protests at McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook entered a second day. Wednesday demonstrators stormed through an entrance to one of the company's campuses holding signs that said, "We Are Worth More" and "My Union My Voice." The event's organizations put the number of protesters at about 2,000, while police pegged it closer to 1,000. More than 100 of the demonstrators were arrested for trespassing.
Thompson also spoke with investors about issues that have drawn criticism from environmental and animal-rights activists: sow-gestation crates and foam cups. The chain is phasing out the crates, which are seen as inhumane, from its supply chain by 2022. While the company is getting rid of foam in coffee cups, it's still working on doing the same for ice tea.
In response to another question, Thompson said that McDonald's is looking to serve more vegetarian items in its U.S. restaurants. Chief Financial Officer Peter Bensen, meanwhile, said that a stock split isn't planned at this time.
The protesters were brought to the scene Wednesday by 32 buses, according to police estimates. They were joined by Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry and William Barber, an official from the NAACP civil-rights organization. Police said they made 138 arrests for trespassing, and those people have been processed and released. The arrested included McDonald's workers and 36 community, clergy and labor leaders, including Henry, according to the organizers.
While McDonald's respects the right to peacefully demonstrate and for workers to choose whether to join a union, the company is "focused on welcoming our shareholders," spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said Wednesday.
McDonald's and other chains are facing growing criticism for not paying workers enough. Since November 2012, when fast- food employees picketed in New York for wages of $15 an hour and the right to form a union, protests and strikes have spread to McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King across the country. Earlier this month, some fast-food workers also demonstrated overseas.
McDonald's, the world's largest restaurant chain, also is contending with sluggish demand and increasing competition. Sales at its domestic locations open at least 13 months were little changed in April, the company said earlier this month.
McDonald's has more than 35,400 restaurants worldwide. In the United States, about 90 percent of its locations are owned by franchisees, who determine pay, Sa Shekhem said. McDonald's pays above the minimum wage in most cases, she said. Still, raising pay to $15 an hour is unrealistic, Sa Shekhem said.
The U.S. minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and some states and cities require higher pay than the national rate. Fast-food workers in America make about $9.08 an hour, or $18,880 a year, on average, if they work full time, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.