A McDonald's sign is shown outside one of their restaurants in Encinitas, California January 29, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Spurred by recent successes, U.S. low-wage workers next week plan to make McDonald’s Corp and its annual shareholder meeting the target of major protests calling for $15 per hour and the right to unionize.

The union-backed “Fight for $15” campaign on Thursday said the actions will start with a Chicago fast-food worker strike on May 25. That same day, it will kick off two days of protests at McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, where the fast-food company will host its annual meeting on May 26. Organizers said the Oak Brook protest will be bigger and more aggressive than ever before.

The campaign since 2012 has had a key role in convincing some lawmakers and major employers to boost long-stagnant minimum wages and explore other ways to improve working conditions for scores of Americans whose jobs range from flipping hamburgers to caring for the elderly.

Ke’Jioun Johnson, 20, works at a McDonald’s restaurant in uptown Chicago and plans to join the protests for the second year in a row.

Johnson’s pay went from $8.25 to $10 per hour in July after Chicago began phasing in a hike that will take the city’s minimum wage to $13 by 2019.

While he is inspired by pay victories in his hometown and states like California and New York, Johnson said much more needs to be done to protect workers.

For example, he and other restaurant and retail workers want to stop employers’ cost-saving practice of cutting short scheduled shifts when business is slow.

“We’re not just about $15 per hour. We’re going to keep fighting until we get union rights,” said Johnson. “It’s what we need to survive – a living wage and the hours to live off of.”

McDonald’s Corp in July raised the average pay and began offering paid vacations and other benefits for the roughly 90,000 workers in the U.S. restaurants it operates. Most McDonald’s workers, however, are employed by franchisees.

They company’s stock is trading near all-time highs, spurred by a profit-boosting turnaround plan that includes all-day breakfast. McDonald’s did not immediately comment for this story.

Business owners who oppose pay hikes say the additional expense puts jobs at risk.

Workers like Johnson argue that well-compensated workers do a better job. That could make a big difference at a fast-food chain, where every second of speed matters.

“If we’re feeling good and energized, everything flows smooth,” Johnson said.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio)

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