independent

Friday 18 April 2014

US fast food workers stage strikes

Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in New York (AP)

Fast food workers are striking in support of higher wages in cities across the US.

Organisers said walkouts were planned in 100 cities, with rallies set for another 100 cities. But it's not clear what the actual turnout will be, how many of the participants are workers and what impact they will have on restaurant operations.

The actions would mark the largest showing yet over the past year. At a time when there is growing national and international attention on economic disparities, labour unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats are hoping to build public support to raise the federal minimum wage of 7.25 US dollars, or about 15,000 US dollars a year for full-time work.

In New York City, about 100 protesters carrying signs, blowing whistles and beating drums marched into a McDonald's at around 6.30am - one startled customer grabbed his food and fled as they flooded the restaurant, while another did not look up from eating and reading amid their chants of "We can't survive on 7.25!".

Community leaders took turns giving speeches for about 15 minutes until the police arrived and ordered protesters out of the store. A McDonald's manager declined to be interviewed and asked that customers not be bothered.

Tyeisha Batts, a 27-year-old employee at Burger King, was among those taking part in the demonstrations planned throughout the day in New York City. She said she has been working at the location for about seven months and earns 7.25 Us dollars an hour.

She said she has not been retaliated against but that the manager warned that employees who did not arrive on time would be turned away for their shifts.

Ms Batts said she can get only between 10 and 20 hours of work a week because her employers do not want to give her enough hours to qualify as a full-time employee. Under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, employers will be required to provide health care coverage to full-time employees.

Despite the growing attention on economic disparities, the push for higher pay in the fast food industry faces an uphill battle.

The industry competes aggressively on low prices and companies have warned that they would need to raise prices if wages were hiked. Most fast food locations are also owned and operated by franchisees, which lets companies such as McDonald's, Burger King and Yum Brands say that they do not control worker pay.

However, labour advocates have pointed out that companies control many other aspects of the operations through their franchise agreements, including menus, suppliers and equipment.

Press Association

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