By Candice Choi
and Sam Hananel
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 is spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union, which has bankrolled local worker groups. Protesters want the federal minimum wage of $7.25 boosted to $15 an hour.
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.
Julius Waters, a 29-year-old McDonald’s maintenance worker who was among the protesters, said it’s hard making ends meet on his wage of $7.40 an hour.
“I need a better wage for myself, because, right now, I’m relying on aid, and $7.40 is not able to help me maintain taking care of my son. I’m a single parent,” Waters said.
In New York City, about 100 protesters blew whistles and beat drums while marching into a McDonald’s at around 6:30 a.m.; one startled customer grabbed his food and fled as they flooded the restaurant, while another didn’t look up from eating and reading amid their chants of “We can’t survive on $7.25!”
The National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, said most protesters were union workers and that “relatively few” restaurant employees have participated in past actions. It called the demonstrations a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”
McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, said in statements that their restaurants create work opportunities and provide training and the ability to advance. Burger King reissued its statement on past protests, saying its restaurants have provided an entry point into the workforce for millions of Americans.