NEW YORK (AP) — Thousands of fast-food workers and their supporters beat drums, blew whistles and chanted slogans Thursday on picket lines in dozens of U.S. cities, marking the largest protest yet in their quest for higher wages.

The nationwide day of demonstrations came after similar actions organized by unions and community groups over the past several months. Workers are calling for the right to unionize without interference from employers and for pay of $15 an hour. That’s more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year for full-time employees.

Thursday’s walkouts and protests reached about 60 cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, organizers said. But the turnout varied significantly, with some targeted restaurants seemingly operating normally and others temporarily unable to do business because they had too few employees.

Ryan Carter, a 29-year-old who bought a $1 cup of coffee at a New York McDonald’s where protesters gathered, said he “absolutely” supported the demand for higher wages.

“They work harder than the billionaires in this city,” he said. But Carter said he didn’t plan to stop his regular trips to McDonald’s.

Jobs in low-wage industries have led the economic recovery. Advocates for a higher minimum wage say that makes it crucial that the jobs pay enough for workers who support families.

The restaurant industry says it already operates on thin margins and insists that sharply higher wages would lead to steeper prices for customers and fewer opportunities for job seekers.

The drive for better pay comes as the White House, some members of Congress and economists seek to raise the federal minimum wage. But most proposals are for a more modest increase, with President Barack Obama suggesting $9 an hour.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers in health care, janitorial and other industries, has been providing financial support and training for local organizers in the fast-food strikes around the country.

Walkouts were also planned Thursday in Atlanta, Hartford, Conn., Los Angeles, Milwaukee, St. Louis and other cities, organizers said.

In New York, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined about 300 to 400 workers and supporters Thursday in a march before the group flooded into a McDonald’s near the Empire State Building. Shortly after the demonstration, however, the restaurant seemed to be operating normally, and a few customers said they hadn’t heard of the movement. The same was true at a McDonald’s a few blocks away.

The lack of public awareness illustrates the challenge workers face in building wider support. Workers participating in the strikes still represent a tiny fraction of the industry. And the industry is still known for its high turnover rates and relatively young workers.

At a Wendy’s in New York City, about 150 workers and supporters stood outside chanting, “We can’t survive on $7.25.” There were no customers inside.

In Detroit, the dining area of a McDonald’s on the city’s northwest side was shut down as workers and others protested outside.

In Raleigh, N.C., about 30 fast-food workers picketed outside a Little Caesars. Julio Wilson said he earned $9 an hour at the pizza restaurant, where he has worked for about six months. He said it’s not enough to support himself and his 5-year-old daughter.

“I know I’m risking my job, but it’s my right to fight for what I deserve,” Wilson said. “Nine dollars an hour is not enough to make ends meet nowadays.”

A few dozen people gathered along the street outside a McDonald’s in Las Vegas, chanting and carrying signs that read “Strike for a living wage” and “Huelga por $15,” Spanish for “Strike for $15.” But an employee at the restaurants said it stayed open for business throughout the demonstration.

In Seattle, dozens of people gathered outside a Subway to chant for a $15 minimum wage. Workers inside said they stayed open during the demonstration, and customers were still able to buy sandwiches.

The latest protests follow a series of strikes that began last November in New York City. The biggest effort so far was over the summer when about 2,200 of the country’s millions of fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven cities.

McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say they don’t make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants. At restaurants that McDonald’s owns, the company said, any move to raise entry-level pay would raise overall costs and lead to higher menu prices.

It said that McDonald’s provides professional development for interested employees and that the protests don’t give an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald’s.

“We respect our employees’ rights to voice their opinions. Employees who participate in these activities and return to work are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts as usual,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Wendy’s said in statement that it was “proud to provide a place where thousands of people, who come to us asking for a job, can enter the workforce at a starting wage, gain skills and advance with us or move on to something else.”

Starbucks spokesman Zack Huston said the strikes have not affected the company’s stores. He noted that Starbucks workers earn “competitive wages” and affordable health care that other retailers do not provide for part-time workers.

Subway and Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, did not respond to requests for comment.

Even though they’re not part of unions, fast-food workers who take part in strikes are generally protected from being fired or having employers retaliate against them. Federal labor law gives all workers the right to engage in “protected concerted activities” to complain about wages, working conditions or other terms of employment.

“It’s always been understood that people who fall under this concerted activity umbrella are protected as long as they are protesting not only on their own behalf but on behalf of others as well,” said Robert Kaiser, a St. Louis labor law attorney.

(Photo: AP)

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5 thoughts on “Fast-Food Workers Stage Largest Protests Yet

  1. This fast food pay issue reminds me of that line in the wizard of oz, where the giant says
    “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” you have stories of single women with children
    Working at Mc D’s for low income… the story should be where are the manufacturing, construction, clerical, sales ,tech, upper tier jobs that this woman would transition to. The way things are now these fast food
    Jobs will just be careers where people hire on and 20/30 yrs. later there up for retirement

  2. vjsim4 on said:

    Most of these workers, in the fast food industry are illegal immigrants. Most of them can’t even speak english and are under educated. I don’t care who don’t like it…they do not deserve $15 per hour. A young american born person cannot even get a job at these fast food restuarants because the illegal immigrants only hire each other. Black people stop getting on ever band wagon that presents itself…get all the facts.

    • vjsim4,
      I do not know about other restaurants, but the McDonalds in my old neighborhood has predominately Black employees and the one closet to me in my current neighborhood has predominately White employees with sprinkles of Blacks and Mexicans. Perhaps many fast-food restaurants hire undocumented workers but as you stated, I do not know the facts. If and when it is certain that these restaurants are employing undocumented workers, then the Company, owner and managers should be heavily fined. (Either way, they will be caught – eventually.) We can only pray and hope that all undocumented workers go through the proper channels to be here legally, as I believe everyone deserves a fair chance to live here on in any other Country. (I know if I was in their shoes, I would go where I thought I could provide a better life for my family.)
      I only get on the bandwagon when I see an injustice, and show favor to those workers seeking employment but are discriminated against. Similarly, I am in favor of fair wages for all employees working at these million/billion dollar companies.

  3. I AM SO PROUD OF THESE WORKERS! GOOD FOR THEM! They SHOULD strike and continue demanding better pay, as they stated, “No one can survive on those wages.”
    The article states: “Advocates for a higher minimum wage say that makes it crucial that the jobs pay enough for workers who support families.”
    Oh so true! However, it is not just to support their families but just being able to purchase the necessities. Some economists continue to say that the economy will not improve greatly due to consumer’s desist spending. If a person were barely getting by on meager wages, how or why would anyone expect them to spend anything beyond the necessities?
    I cannot recall when I heard the story, but at one time, a McDonalds executive said that workers need to learn how to better manage their money! I was shocked and appalled! This executive is making millions while the workers hardly have enough to pay their electricity, medical care or rent! It is shameful.
    The article also states: “Jobs in low-wage industries have led the economic recovery.”
    Possibly, but is there a poll to say the age of the low-wage workers? (Their family history?) Perhaps that makes all the difference because if they are young and living at home, then they can spend that money – putting it back into the economy, which leads to growth in the economy.
    I agree with the man with the coffee: “They work harder than the billionaires in this city”.
    If the price of a burger, fries, or drinks increase, then so be it.

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