McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said Thursday he was "incredibly proud" of a decision to bump pay for some workers, even after protesters called on the company to do more outside its annual shareholder meeting.
Easterbrook, who stepped into his role in March, is fighting to revive sluggish sales and convince people that McDonald's is a "modern, progressive burger company." But the push comes at a time when protests for pay of $15 an hour and a union have been spreading around the country.
Hundreds of protesters turned out in Oak Brook, Illinois on Wednesday and Thursday before the company's meeting.
McDonald's had said in April that it would raise pay for workers at company-owned stores to at least $1 above the local minimum wage and let them earn paid time off. It will also offer up to $700 in college tuition help to eligible workers at all stores.
Labor organizers and workers have dismissed the move on pay in part because they say it leaves so many workers out in the cold. The vast majority of the more than 14,300 McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. are owned by franchisees. McDonald's has stood by its position that it doesn't control pay decisions at franchised locations.
During the meeting, the company got support from at least one shareholder, who said that actress Sharon Stone and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos were among those who have worked at McDonald's. If the chain paid $15, he said, those people would still be working at McDonald's.
Members of Corporate Accountability, a regular critic of McDonald's marketing practices, also repeated their request that the company retire Ronald McDonald and stop marketing to children.
But Easterbrook defended the company's use of the red-headed clown, who he noted recently got a new outfit that makes him feel "trendier."
"With regards to Ronald, Ronald's here to stay," Easterbrook said.
Shareholders also approved a proposal to give investors access to the director nomination process. The UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, which filed the proposal, had said the costs to put forward nominees for board seats could be "prohibitive" under the current system.
Institutional Investor Services and Glass Lewis, two proxy advisory firms, had backed the proposal.
McDonald's had opposed the proposal, which it said could enable shareholders with "special interests" to nominate directors and "introduce a potentially expensive and destabilizing dynamic" into its board election process.
Becca Hary, a McDonald's spokeswoman, said the company would evaluate the advisory vote "and the board will consider it to determine what's appropriate."