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Fast-food protests return amid push for wage hikes

Fast-food protests return amid push by White House, lawmakers for higher minimum wage

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Protesters chant inside a McDonald’s restaurant in Oakland, Calif. Protests were held nationwide as unions and worker advocacy groups as well as Democrats renewed a drive for an increase in the federal minimum wage.

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NEW YORK — Fast-food workers and labor organizers marched, waved signs, and chanted in cities across the country on Thursday in a push for higher wages.

Organizers say employees planned to forgo work in 100 cities, with rallies set for another 100 cities. But by late afternoon, it was unclear what the actual turnout was or how many of the participants were workers. At targeted restaurants, the disruptions seemed minimal or temporary.

The National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, said most protesters were union workers and that “relatively few” restaurant employees have participated in past actions. It called the demonstrations a “campaign engineered by national labor groups.”

The protests are part of an effort that began about a year ago and is spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union, which has spent millions to bankroll local worker groups and organize publicity for the demonstrations. Protesters are calling for pay of $15 an hour, but the figure is seen more as a rallying point than a near-term possibility.

At a time when there’s growing national and international attention on economic disparities, advocacy groups and Democrats are hoping to build public support to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. That comes to about $15,000 a year for full-time work.

On Thursday, crowds gathered outside restaurants in cities including Boston, Lakewood, Calif., Phoenix, Washington, and Charlotte, where protesters walked into a Burger King but didn’t stop customers from getting their food.

In Detroit, about 50 demonstrators turned out for a predawn rally in front of a McDonald’s. A few employees said they weren’t working, but a manager and other employees kept the restaurant open.

Julius Waters, a 29-year-old McDonald’s maintenance worker who was among the protesters, said it’s hard making ends meet on his wage of $7.40 an hour.

“I need a better wage for myself, because, right now, I’m relying on [government] aid, and $7.40 is not able to help me maintain taking care of my son. I’m a single parent,” Mr. Waters said.

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