Fast-food workers protest low US wage

Danny Alvarez protests at a fast food restaurant in Austin, Texas as part of national strikes. Photo / AP
Danny Alvarez protests at a fast food restaurant in Austin, Texas as part of national strikes. Photo / AP

Fast-food workers protested in United States cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit yesterday, with organisers expecting the biggest national walkouts yet in a demand for higher wages.

The nationwide day of demonstrations came after similar actions organised by unions and community groups over the past several months.

Workers are calling for the right to unionise without interference from employers and for pay of US$15 ($19.25) an hour. That's more than double the federal minimum wage of US$7.25 an hour, or US$15,000 a year for full-time employees.

Yesterday's walkouts and protests reached about 60 cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, organisers said. But the turnout varied significantly. Some targeted restaurants were temporarily unable to do business because they had too few employees, and others seemingly operated normally.

Ryan Carter, a 29-year-old who bought a US$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 they 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 US$9 an hour.

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

The National Retail Federation called the actions "yet more theatre orchestrated by organised labour, for organised labour".

The group said it showed the labour movement was facing depleted membership rolls.

- AP

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