As McDonald’s held its annual shareholder meeting on Thursday, several Democratic presidential candidates joined striking workers demanding a $15 minimum wage, union rights and better protection from sexual harassment.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont participated in a virtual forum with workers in Dallas, where the meeting was being held, and used his campaign email list to urge supporters to join workers at the picket lines. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington spoke at a rally in Chicago; Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, made an appearance in Durham, N.C.; Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York joined workers in Des Moines; and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey called into a rally in Kansas City.
“We’re here today to tell McDonald’s that it’s not acceptable to pay your workers a wage they can’t live on,” Mr. Castro said, adding that his campaign would boycott McDonald’s until it increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour, let workers unionize and addressed their complaints of sexual harassment.
“I want to thank you all for using your voice and rising up to put pressure on McDonald’s to make that happen, because the only way that it’s going to happen is if we take action,” he said.
Mr. Sanders focused sharply on the issue of wages, noting that McDonald’s reported $1.4 billion in profit in the last quarter of 2018 and paid its chief executive $22 million. “If McDonald’s has enough money to buy back $22 billion of its own stock,” he said on Twitter, “it damn well has enough money to pay all of its workers at least $15 an hour.”
But by using his campaign’s huge email list to mobilize support for the striking workers, he went beyond the usual expressions of solidarity. Democratic candidates often show up at picket lines; several did so just last month when Stop & Shop workers went on strike. It’s also common enough for candidates to send out emails reiterating their support for workers. But they very rarely use their lists to encourage attendance at protests that are unrelated to their campaigns.
Eleven other candidates — former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., former Representative John Delaney of Maryland, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Senator Kamala Harris of California, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Representative Eric Swalwell of California and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — expressed support for the workers.
Hundreds walked out on Thursday, and at least a handful of McDonald’s locations were closed for the day as a result.
Labor has long been a powerful Democratic constituency, and unions’ endorsements — not to mention their money — can be highly influential, especially in primaries. And as Democrats try to win back some of the working-class voters who supported President Trump in 2016, many of them are presenting themselves as left-wing populist alternatives to Mr. Trump’s right-wing populism.
With the Iowa caucuses more than seven months away, few of the big unions have settled on a candidate. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has received the only major labor endorsement so far, from the International Association of Fire Fighters.
A $15 minimum wage, described as a radical proposal just a few years ago, has largely become a point of consensus among the Democratic candidates. Several cities and states are phasing it in; in some places, including New York City, it is already in effect.
But the federal minimum remains $7.25, and while McDonald’s has stopped lobbying against legislation to increase it, it has not raised the bar for its own employees. The company argues that because most of its locations are franchises, it can’t mandate a higher minimum.
McDonald’s is also under fire for its handling of sexual harassment. Just this week, the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund announced more than 20 complaints against the company, alleging not only sexual harassment but also gender-based discrimination, as well as retaliation when workers reported misconduct.