U.S. fast-food workers went on strike and protested on Tuesday in support of a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights in a campaign they hope will catch the attention of candidates in the 2016 elections.
Organizers of the union-backed Fight for $15 campaign said strikes would take place in 270 cities. Rallies with fast-food and other low-wage workers were scheduled for 500 cities, including outside Tuesday's televised debate of Republican presidential candidates in Milwaukee.
The protests are aimed at gaining political support for a minimum wage of $15 an hour and union rights as income inequality looms as an issue heading into the 2016 presidential election.
"The money I bring home can barely take care of my rent," said Alvin Major, 50, a Brooklyn KFC worker who was among about 200 sign-carrying protesters who blocked traffic in Brooklyn.
"We need a wage that could take care of our basic necessities," he said as protesters rallied outside a McDonald's restaurant. New York Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio told a Fight for $15 rally,
"This country can't be what it's supposed to be if people don't make a decent wage." The minimum wage for fast-food workers will rise to $15 by 2018 in New York City and statewide by 2021. Many U.S. cities and municipalities have set a higher base rate than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
Organizers said the strikes and protests would include workers from McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King , KFC and other restaurants. The Fight for $15 campaign began in late 2012 and a major backer is the Service Employees International Union. Last December the group staged similar protests in some 200 cities.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, who backs a federal minimum of $12 an hour, tweeted, "Fast-food, home care, child care workers: Your advocacy is changing our country for the better." Her rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who backs a $15 federal minimum wage, also rallied with protesters in Washington.
In Chicago, about 100 protesters at a McDonald's blocked the drive-through lanes during rush hour, chanting, "We work! We sweat! Put 15 on my check!" Protester Douglass Hunter, 55, said he was working two jobs, including one at McDonald's, to support himself and his daughter. He said people were having to choose between buying food, paying rent and other bills.
"These are choices we should not have to make living in a country as rich as America," he said. Industry lobby groups contend the proposed pay raises would be economically unsustainable and cause them to cut jobs. Michael Mabry, the chief operating officer of Mooyah Burgers, Fries and Shakes, a restaurant chain based in Plano, Texas, said base pay of $15 would cut into entry-level jobs.
Restaurants also could cut staff, harming service and driving away customers, he said. "There are unintended consequences when you make a blanket statement of $15 an hour," Mabry said. The scheduled protests were to take place as McDonald's holds an investor meeting.