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McDonald's CEO says Ronald McDonald won't be fired, ever

ronaldmcdonald_hip.jpg

Ronald McDonald has new, updated clothing and will now take an active role on social media for the first time, the company says. (AP)

McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook defended Ronald McDonald, a core representative of the burger chain's image, at the company's annual shareholder meeting.

Members of Corporate Accountability, a regular critic of McDonald's marketing practices, stood up to repeat their request that the company retire Ronald McDonald and stop marketing to children as childhood obesity rises.

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.

McDonald's recently made over the Hamburglar, another mascot, with a more thorough makeover that transformed him into a hip suburban dad.

The mascot was only one of the controversies at the company's annual shareholder meeting. Protesters showed up to shame the company into raising its minimum wage above the modest $1 hike it recently promised.

Easterbrook also said Thursday he was "incredibly proud" of a recent decision to bump pay for some workers, even as hundreds of protesters outside called on the company to do more ahead of its annual shareholder meeting.

During the meeting, the company got support from at least one shareholder, who stood up to note 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.

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 targeting McDonald's over low wages have been spreading around the country.

Easterbrook said at the meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois, that he was proud of the decision announced last month to raise pay for workers at company-owned stores to $1 above the local minimum wage, as well as offer help with college tuition to 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.

On Thursday, protesters delivered a petition of support to McDonald's that organizers said had 1.4 million signatures.