NEW YORK (AP) — Labor organizers began turning up the pressure on McDonald’s and other fast-food chains to raise worker pay, with plans to protest 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.
Industry groups say such pay hikes would hurt their ability to create jobs and have called into question how many of the protesters are workers, rather than union members or supporters.
The actions are being backed by the Service Employees International Union and began in New York City in late 2012. Since then, organizers have steadily intensified actions to keep the issue in the spotlight.
In March, lawsuits filed in three states accused McDonald’s of denying workers breaks, overtime pay and other practices that deprived them 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. and 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 chains 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 protesters, the campaign has nevertheless captured national media attention at a time when the gap between the rich and poor has widened and compensation for executives has come under greater scrutiny.
It also comes as President Barack Obama works 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.
Still, 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 the majority of fast-food restaurants in the U.S. are owned by franchisees who say they’re already operating on thin profit margins.
In an extensive 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.”