BY CANDICE CHOI
AND SAM HANANEL
The Associated Press
Fast-food workers in dozens of U.S. cities walked off the job yesterday in their largest round of protests yet, saying they cannot get by on what they earn and must have higher wages.
Similar protests organized by unions and community groups over the past several months have drawn attention to fast-food "McJobs," known for low pay and limited prospects.
Yesterday's effort to stage a nationwide day of protest by thousands of workers reached about 60 cities including New York, Chicago and Detroit, organizers said. But the turnout varied significantly, with some targeted restaurants operating relatively normally and others temporarily shutting down because they had too few employees.
Advocates for a higher minimum wage note that jobs in low-wage industries have led the economic recovery. That makes it crucial that those jobs pay enough for workers who support families.
The restaurant industry says it already operates on thin margins and insists that sharply higher wages would lead to steeper prices for customers and fewer opportunities for job seekers.
In Manhattan, about 300 to 400 workers and supporters marched yesterday before the group flooded into a McDonald's near the Empire State Building. Shortly after the demonstration, however, the restaurant seemed to be operating normally, and a few customers said they hadn't heard of the movement. The same was true at a McDonald's a few blocks away.
The lack of public awareness illustrates the challenge workers face in building wider support. Participating workers, who are asking for $15 an hour and the right to unionize without interference from employers, still represent a tiny fraction of the industry.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which works out to about $15,000 a year for full-time employees.
The quest for better pay comes as the White House, some members of Congress and economists seek to raise the federal minimum wage. But most proposals are for a more modest increase, with President Barack Obama suggesting $9 an hour.
McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say they don't make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate the majority of their U.S. restaurants. Subway and Yum Brands Inc., which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, did not respond to a request for comment.