U.S. fast-food workers launched a nationwide protest in New York on Tuesday to argue for higher wages and union rights that they hope will catch the attention of candidates in the 2016 elections.
A couple hundred protesters marched in downtown Brooklyn, blocking traffic and carrying banners reading “A living wage = quality care” and “On strike for work that sustains families.” The protesters stopped to rally outside a McDonald’s restaurant.
Organizers of the Fight for $15 campaign say the protests will be followed by rallies in 500 cities by low-wage workers in such sectors as fast food and home and child care.
The protests and strikes are aimed at gaining candidates’ support heading into the 2016 U.S. presidential election for a minimum wage of $15 an hour and union rights, the group said.
“The money I bring home can barely take care of my rent,” said protester Alvin Major, 50, a Guyanese native who said he earns about $1,200 a month with his job at a Brooklyn KFC, not enough to cover expenses of his four children and ill wife. “We need a wage that could take care of our basic necessities.”
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.
The campaign already has won over New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who in July succeeded in pushing through a measure that would raise the mininum wage for fast-food workers in New York City to $15 by 2018 and statewide by 2021.
That maneuver bypassed the state legislature, with a three-member wage board authorizing the change. Cuomo has gone on to call for the state to increase the minimum hourly rate in all industries to $15 an hour, which would be the highest of any state, in the next six years. He will need the legislature’s cooperation to achieve that goal.
Shaunette Richardson, 41, a widowed mother of three teenagers who currently makes $8.75 an hour at a McDonald’s, said she welcomes the coming increase in pay but also wants union protections.
“If we don’t have a union, then our fight for $15 will have been in vain,” she said.
Many U.S. cities and municipalities have set a higher base rate than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
The strikes and protests will include workers from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC and other restaurants, the statement said.
Tuesday’s scheduled protests were to take place as McDonald’s is holding an investor meeting.
A September poll by Quinnipiac University found that 62 percent of New York voters supported raising the minimum wage to $15 over the next few years.
Industry lobby groups contend that the proposed wage hikes would be economically unsustainable and cause them to cut jobs.
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