CHICAGO (Reuters) — U.S. fast-food workers and supporters marched for higher pay in Chicago, Milwaukee and Boston on Thursday as demonstrations advocating for a US$15 minimum wage and other labour rights planned in at least 160 cities began around the United States.
About 200 demonstrators marched in downtown Chicago starting near the Rock 'N' Roll McDonald's, the largest in the city, chanting "We can't survive on $8.25" and "Get up, get down, Chicago is a union town."
Behind a thick, colorful scarf Halle Smith, 20, was among about 50 demonstrators in frigid pre-dawn temperatures outside a Milwaukee Taco Bell.
"I shouldn't have to have two jobs just to survive," said Smith, who said she has made the minimum wage for about three years and works 60 hours a week at two jobs, a Sonic restaurant and a group home. "I have to choose what bills to pay and what not to pay."
Organizers hope the protests, under a banner organization called Fight for 15 and aimed to include home care and airline industries, will be the most expansive to date, increasing to a planned 160 cities from 150 in a similar protest in September.
Workers are expected to stage strikes and walkouts at fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's, and major airports including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
The union-backed actions are part of a push since 2012 for an increase in the federal minimum wage to US$15 per hour from US$7.25, where it has held since 2009.
Jonelle Walker, 29, a homecare worker from a suburb west of Chicago who said she serves as the legs, eyes and ears of a Vietnam veteran, was among the marchers on Thursday.
"I want to see all the workers lifted on living wage because they deserve it and the clients deserve it," Walker said. "I sacrifice a lot. What I'm doing is from my heart and no one can put a price on that."
In the Boston area, scores of fast-food workers and their supporters filled a McDonald's and a Dunkin Donuts in working-class Chelsea, Massachusetts, early Thursday. Three Dunkin Donuts workers walked out from behind the counter and left the restaurant to join the demonstrators.
Melinda Robinson of Kansas City, Missouri, and her 5-year-old daughter, Mercy, marched Thursday with about 100 people in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, seeking a $15 wage and union.
"We need a living wage to be able to support our families. They don't think we deserve it," said Robinson, who has six children and makes $9 per hour working at a Subway.
Advocates of higher hourly pay say full-time workers are kept below the poverty threshold for a family of four at the current wage. Opponents say the protests are tainted because they involved major labor organizations.
Fast-food chains say their locations are largely owned by independent operators who are responsible for pay rates of employees.