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Monday, Jun 13, 2011, 11:42 am

‘You Are the Hamburglar’: Stand Up! Chicago to Protest Overpaid Executives

By Ryan Williams
You Are The Hamburglar by Ryan Williams

On June 14, several Chicago progressive groups are marching on the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce’s yearly "CFO Executive Summit," described as a “private conference built by CFOs, for CFOs.” The groups, which include Stand Up! Chicago, Chicago Jobs with Justice and US Uncut Chicago, intend to pressure Chicago-based corporations to invest more of their profits in job creation, education and community support. The group says that the 80 corporations attending the Summit saw a collective $200 billion in profits and $80 million in tax breaks in 2010, but created few jobs and did little to support their communities. That money “could have saved schools, put Chicagoans to work and kept families facing foreclosure in their homes,” according to Stand Up! Chicago’s site.

Chicago’s unemployment rate has hovered between 9 and 11 percent since the end of 2008, when massive layoffs at local companies were blamed on declining profits caused by the so-called "great recession," which is supposedly over. According to the Heartland Alliance, Corporations in the Chicago area shed nearly 114,000 jobs that year, pushing the Chicagoland region’s poverty level to the third highest in the nation, with more than 1.2 million people living at or near the federal poverty line, which is a shockingly low $22,350 per year for a family of four.

The rally adds to growing unrest over record-breaking profits at corporations that pay little or no taxes to support critical infrastructure, education and social services. A Government Accountability Office report (PDF) released in 2008 found that 55 percent of U.S. companies paid no taxes for at least one year during the seven year study. In 2010, General Electric was outed by the New York Times for receiving a $3.2 billion tax refund on $5 billion in profits earned on U.S. shores ($14.2 billion worldwide) by employing nearly 1,000 people to “look to exploit opportunities to reduce tax.”

So what about people living in the massively depressed communities of Chicago’s south and west sides? They certainly can’t hire 975 accountants to help themselves exploit tax-reducing opportunities.
June 10 protest by Ryan Williams, on Flickr

“It’s the little man that pays” is the sentiment shared by about 20 protestors from Chicago’s South Side that staged a protest on June 10 outside the flagship McDonald’s restaurant in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. (See more photos here.) Teachers, union members and community organizers with Stand Up! Chicago protested the suburban Oakbrook-based corporation's swelling profits (which rose 80 percent during the first year of the recession), high CEO salary (of $9.7 million) and low entry-level wage (of $8.11 per hour).

The march lasted approximately 20 minutes before an armed McDonald’s security guard broke up the crowd to allow cars into the parking lot. “You can’t block customers,” the guard shouted, as he stopped the marchers from leaving to let cars through.

The group carried signs, one of which compared the pay of an entry level McDonald’s employee ($16,544) with the salary of McDonald’s CEO ($9.7 million). “You remember that hiring event they had a while back?” one marcher asked. “They hardly hired anyone, and even if you got a job you only got paid $8.11 an hour." He shook his head. “That’s the reason for all the unrest in our communities.”

The CFO Executive Summit is being held at the Hyatt Regency at 151 East Wacker Drive in Chicago. The Stand Up! Chicago march begins at 3:30 p.m. at the Hyatt.

Ryan Williams is a Columbia College journalism graduate working in Chicago nonprofits. He moonlights as a freelance photographer and writer.

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