Democratic Presidential Candidates To Rally For McDonald's Workers

Several 2020 contenders plan to join the fast-food employees in Fight for $15 protests this week when the chain's shareholders meet.
The Fight for $15 campaign will carry out one-day strikes in 13 cities across the United States on Thursday.
The Fight for $15 campaign will carry out one-day strikes in 13 cities across the United States on Thursday.

For Democratic presidential hopefuls, the 2020 campaign trail apparently runs through the McDonald’s drive-thru.

The union-backed Fight for $15 campaign announced Monday that four candidates would be joining McDonald’s workers at protests Thursday, the same day as the fast-food giant’s annual shareholder meeting in Dallas.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is slated to visit workers striking at a set of golden arches in Des Moines, Iowa; Julian Castro at one in Durham, N.C.; and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee at one in Chicago. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) plans to hold a video town hall meeting with McDonald’s employees the same day.

The Fight for $15 is planning one-day strikes in 13 cities to coincide with the shareholders’ meeting, according to a statement from the group. The meeting has become a rallying point for McDonald’s detractors in recent years. The 2017 session drew a few hundred protesters to the company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

The Fight for $15 launched in 2012 with a series of intermittent strikes in the fast-food industry, as workers pilloried the biggest chains for paying low wages. McDonald’s has been a prime target since the campaign’s earliest days, even winding up in a trial at the federal labor board for allegedly retaliating against union activists.

McDonald’s indicated in March that it would no longer lobby against minimum wage hikes, telling the National Restaurant Association that it would stay out of federal, state and local legislation on the issue, according to a Politico report. “The conversation about wages is an important one; it’s one we wish to advance, not impede,” the company wrote.

The restaurant chain did not immediately comment on the announcement that Democratic candidates planned to join protests this week.

The Fight for $15 will launch a program ahead of next year’s elections aimed at highlighting “the need to put more workers in unions” and making it “a defining issue of the 2020 campaign,” according to the group’s statement. It will also be sending activists to early battleground states to press those vying for the Democratic nomination on collective bargaining rights. In fall 2018, the movement sent canvassers to Michigan and Wisconsin in an effort to drive voter turnout in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee.

The planned visits by candidates to picket lines this week shows some of the renewed power that unions have within the Democratic Party at the moment. The Fight for $15 has been funded by the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union, which also provides one of the prized endorsements of the primary (or general) election. The union endorsed former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton early in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Much has shifted politically since then, with unions’ popularity on the rise and Democrats broadly endorsing some of their core demands, including a $15 federal minimum wage. Four candidates ― Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana ― joined Stop & Shop grocery store employees with the United Food and Commercial Workers union when they waged a strike across three states in April.

SEIU expects all the candidates to push policies that would expand collective bargaining, union president Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. 

“It’s time for those who have been elected ― or want to be elected ― by working people to fight alongside us, no exceptions,” she said.

Correction: This story originally said three candidates joined Stop & Shop workers in protests. It was actually four.