Fast-food workers are also seen as difficult to unionize, given the industry’s high turnover rates. But the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers in health care, janitorial and other industries, has been providing organizational and financial support to the push for higher pay over the past year.
Berlin Rosen, a political consulting and public relations firm based in New York City, has also been coordinating communications efforts and helping organizers connect with media outlets.
In the meantime, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised a vote on the wage hike by the end of the year. But the measure is not expected to gain traction in the House, where Republican leaders oppose it.
Supporters of wage hikes have been successful at the state and local level. Last month, voters in New Jersey approved a hike in the minimum to $8.25 an hour, up from $7.25 an hour. California, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island also raised their minimum wages this year.
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said she thinks the protests have helped encourage more states and localities to raise their minimum wage this year. She expects the number of cities and participants in the protests to grow next year as the union tries to keep pressure on fast food companies.
“I think we’ve totally changed the conversation about what these jobs are worth,” Henry said. “These are no longer jobs being done by teenagers who need extra money. These are jobs being done by adults that can’t find any other work.”
While fast food workers tend to be a transient work force, Henry said her union has had success unionizing janitors and nursing home workers, which were also deemed too transient to be organized.
Hananel reported from Washington.