NEW YORK – Fast-food workers and labor organizers marched, waved signs and chanted in cities across the country on Thursday in a push for higher wages.
Organizers say employees planned to forgo work in 100 cities, with rallies set for another 100 cities. But by late afternoon, it was unclear what the actual turnout was or how many of the participants were workers. At targeted restaurants, the disruptions seemed minimal or temporary.
The protests are part of an effort that began about a year ago and is spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union, which has spent millions to bankroll local worker groups and organize publicity for the demonstrations. Protesters are calling for pay of $15 an hour, but the figure is seen more as a rallying point than a near-term possibility.
At a time when there’s growing national and international attention on economic disparities, advocacy groups and Democrats are hoping to build public support to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. That comes to about $15,000 a year for full-time work.
On Thursday, crowds gathered outside restaurants in cities including Boston, Lakewood, Calif., Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C., where protesters walked into a Burger King but didn’t stop customers from getting their food.
In Detroit, about 50 demonstrators turned out for a pre-dawn rally in front of a McDonald’s. A few employees said they weren’t working but a manager and other employees kept the restaurant open.
The push for higher pay in fast food faces an uphill battle. The industry competes aggressively on being able to offer low-cost meals, and companies have warned that they would need to raise prices if wages were hiked.
Fast-food workers have also historically been 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 helped put their wages into the spotlight.