NEW YORK (AP) -- Labor organizers turned up the pressure on McDonald’s and other fast-food chains to raise worker pay, with plans to stage actions in more than 30 countries Thursday.
The demonstrations build on a campaign by unions to bring attention to the plight of low-wage workers and get the public behind the idea of a $15-an-hour wage.
Dozens of workers participated in demonstrations at various fast-food restaurants in the St. Louis-area, including the McDonald’s in the 9100 block of Florissant Ave. in Ferguson. In addition to a raise in pay, workers are asking for the right to unionize.
Others were protesting in front a Wendy's in south St. Louis.
"I'm sick of saving my checks from check to check. I'm tired of paying my rent late. I think $15.00 an hour will me pay my rent on time," Wendy's employee Marshelle Washington said.
Washington told News 4 she is leaving Wendy's for another job that pays more but decided to strike on behalf of other fast food workers.
Industry groups say such pay hikes would hurt their ability to create jobs and have noted that many of the protesters are not workers.
At the demonstrations in south St. Louis, a spokesman for the local Show Me 15 campaign said nearly everyone at the demonstration was a fast food worker. However, News 4 learned that not all of the marchers work in the fast food industry, but organizers said the message is important regardless of who is protesting.
The actions are being backed by the Service Employees International Union and began in New York City in late 2012.
A non-profit anti-union group known as the Center for Union Facts sent a series of emails critical of the strikes saying it has proof that union money is heavily behind the strikes.
News 4 looked at the Center for Union Fact's IRS records, but the group does not reveal where it gets its funding.
In March, lawsuits filed in three states accused McDonald’s of denying breaks and engaging in other practices that deprived employees of their rightful wages. Workers were referred to lawyers by union organizers, who announced protests over “wage theft” the following week.
Turnout for the protests have varied widely in the U.S. In Miami and Philadelphia, protests did not seem to disrupt operations at the targeted restaurants on Thursday. The scope of actions planned for overseas also differed depending on the country.
In Denmark, for instance, McDonald’s worker Louise Marie Rantzau said the plan was to take a photo outside a Burger King or other restaurants and post it on social media. Rantzau, who earns about $21 an hour, said a collective agreement with McDonald’s in the country prevents workers from protesting the chain.
In New York City, a couple hundred demonstrators beat drums, blew whistles and chanted in the rain outside a Domino’s for about a half hour. The manager on duty inside said no employees from the store were participating. A handful of customers squeezed past the protesters to get inside the store.
Although many customers say they’re not aware of the ongoing protests, the campaign has nevertheless captured national media attention at a time when the income gap between the rich and poor has widened. Executive pay packages have come under greater scrutiny as well, with Chipotle shareholders overwhelmingly voting Thursday to reject how much the chain plans to compensate its top officers.
A spokesman for Chipotle, Chris Arnold, said the company takes the vote, which is advisory and non-binding, “very seriously.”
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has also been working to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The current rate of $7.25 an hour translates to about $15,000 a year, assuming a person works 40 hours a week.
Fast-food workers have historically been considered difficult to unionize because many are part-timers or teenagers who don’t stay on the job for long. Also complicating matters is that most fast-food restaurants in the U.S. are owned by franchisees who say they’re already operating on thin profit margins.
In a statement, McDonald’s noted that the actions were not strikes and that outside groups “have traveled to McDonald’s and other outlets to stage rallies.”
The company, which has more than 35,000 locations globally, said the debate over wages needed to take into account “the highly competitive nature of the industries that employ minimum wage workers.”
In a statement, the National Restaurant Association called the actions “nothing more than big labor’s attempt to push their own agenda.”