Fast-food workers seeking higher pay protested around the globe at chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s amid a broader debate about raising the minimum wage.
Actions were scheduled yesterday in 150 U.S. cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and in more than 30 countries including Germany, Japan and the U.K. as part of a campaign seeking wages of $15 an hour and the right to unionize, according to a news release from BerlinRosen Public Affairs in New York.
The demonstrations were backed by the worker-advocacy group Fast Food Forward and the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million members. They occurred as states and cities including Connecticut and Seattle are raising or a considering a raise in minimum wage and as President Barack Obama calls for increasing the $7.25 federal rate. Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the protests “made-for-media” events.
“Workers have sparked a conversation about income inequality and do we want to stand by these companies who employ mostly women with children and are pushing them into poverty,” Kendall Fells, organizing director at the New York chapter of Fast Food Forward, said outside a Domino’s Pizza Inc. store in Times Square.
A protest there drew about 200 people and lasted about a half an hour. Workers chanted and marched before police asked them to move.
In Wisconsin, about 200 people rallied at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, then marched to a shopping center, chanting “15 and a union” to the beat of drums.
In Atlanta, the Burger King across from Castleberry Hill, a loft development, had its doors locked by 1:15 p.m. local time. It opened only to customers and later closed altogether.
A crowd of about 70 marched through drive-through lanes shouting, “We can’t survive on $7.25” to a constant chorus of honking from passing cars and semis.
“I get maybe $350 every two weeks, and I try to live on that,” said Qiana Shields, 35, who has worked there 10 years.
About 75 protesters marched from a McDonald’s near downtown Miami to a Wendy’s a few blocks away.
Bob Bertini, a Wendy’s Co. spokesman, said the company is “proud to give thousands of people, who come to us for an starting job, the opportunity to learn and develop important skills.”
Burger King Worldwide Inc. said in a statement that it “respects the rights of all workers.”
Becca Hary, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant chain, didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the strike.
Franchise owners at Domino’s set their own wage rates, spokesman Tim McIntyre said.
Fast-food workers in the U.S. make about $9 an hour, or $18,880 a year, if they work full time, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Increasing labor costs “is not the comprehensive solution to income inequality” and will “only hurt business owners’ ability to create entry-level jobs,” the National Restaurant Association said in a statement.
Nationally, minimum-wage increases have drawn opposition from businesses groups, which argue that it makes them more reluctant to hire. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the effect on employment from a national increase to $10.10 would be anywhere from a “very slight reduction” to as many as 1 million lost jobs.