U.S. News

U.S. fast-food workers protest over pay, hundreds arrested

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. fast-food workers staged protests in some 150 cities on Thursday in a fight for higher pay, and organizers said more than 450 were arrested from Manhattan’s Times Square to Los Angeles.

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About 400 protesters clogged Times Square during morning rush hour in the latest of ongoing actions aimed at raising their wage to $15 an hour.

They hoisted placards reading “Stick together for $15 and union rights,” and some held a sit-in at a McDonald’s restaurant, prompting 19 arrests for disorderly conduct.

Sit-ins also were held in other cities, and organizers said 465 arrests were made among protesters from Chicago, Detroit, Little Rock, Arkansas, Kansas City, Houston and Nashville.

In Los Angeles, protesters confronted managers inside two McDonald’s restaurants. And near Milwaukee, U.S. Representative Gwen Moore was among 27 people arrested.

McDonald’s worker Latoya Walker, who lives in a homeless shelter in Queens and makes $8 per hour, joined Thursday’s march for her five young children.

“With $15, I’d be able to save up enough to rent a home for my kids,” Walker said.

Protest organizers said Thursday’s actions were the biggest to date, targeting chains including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC.

In Kansas City, protester Dana Wittman, 38, said the $9 an hour she makes at Pizza Hut is not enough for her family. “I have to choose between paying my rent and putting food on the table,” she said.

The recurring union-backed actions, which started in New York City, have steadily gathered steam since late 2012. They have helped spur a national debate about the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 since 2009, despite efforts by Democrats in Congress to raise it ahead of November’s mid-term congressional elections.

Protesters, many of whom are adults working 40 hours or more a week, say they cannot survive on such pay. Experts say about $11 an hour is the poverty threshold for a family of four.

U.S. fast-food restaurants this year are expected to make profits of $7.2 billion on revenue of $198.9 billion, according to research firm IBISWorld. Most of their U.S. restaurants are owned by franchisees, who set their own wages and say that raising the hourly wage will hurt their businesses.

Workers claimed a victory in July when the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board said McDonald’s, not just its franchisees, can be liable for alleged labor law violations. But experts say it could take months, if not years, to resolve the cases.

A McDonald’s spokeswoman said the world’s biggest fast-food chain supports paying wages that are competitive in local markets and reflect a worker’s skill and experience.

The drive is being led by the Service Employees International Union, which has 2 million members. The International Franchise Association said unions want “a shortcut to refill their steadily dwindling membership ranks and coffers.”

Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Laila Kearney in New York, Elizabeth Daley in; Pittsburgh, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Keith Coffman in Denver, Dan Kelly in Philadelphia; Editing by Cynthia Osterman