Protesters lobby for higher wages for fast food workers and urge fast food workers from around the globe to join their campaign outside a McDonalds on May 7. / Andrew Burton, Getty Images
NEW YORK - Hundreds of fast food workers walked off their jobs in many U.S. cities and in more than 30 countries on Thursday, joining labor and union activists in protests calling for wages of $15 an hour and the right to seek union representation without retaliation.
At least 17 food chains were targeted, including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC. No violence was reported.
The day of protests, targeting the $200 billion fast-food industry at a time of intense competition, drew particular media attention in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. They continue a campaign launched 18 months ago.
Protester organizers said that a Burger King in Atlanta and another in Dorchester, Mass., were at least briefly closed during the strike, but Burger King spokesman Alix Salyers said no stores closed. Similarly, McDonald's officials said no restaurants closed, while protesters said several did.
In New York City, dozens of workers stood outside a McDonald's near Penn Station. They partially blocked some entrances and temporarily stalled, but did not halt, sales.
Naquasia LeGrand, 22, of Brooklyn, says this was her sixth protest since 2012. She has worked for three years as a cashier at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Park Slope, an affluent neighborhood in Brooklyn. She says makes $8 an hour and pays $1,300 a month for her apartment. "We live in New York City - a multibillion dollar city," she says. "These corporations ... are making all this money. It's only right that we (workers) come together."
In Los Angeles, about 50 sign-toting protesters gathered in front of a McDonald's restaurant near the University of Southern California campus. Many said they are employees, at this store or another McDonald's.
Sam Quintero, 23, of Los Angeles, a worker there, spoke to the crowd from a stake-bed truck parked in front. He says he was joined by about 20 co-workers to protest wages that are so low, "we barely make it."
The global protest was organized by Fast Food Forward, a group financed by the Service Employees International Union, which has more than 2 million members. A restaurant industry-backed group, Center for Union Facts, issued a report on Thursday estimating that SEIU has spent more than $15 million supporting the protests since January 2013. SEIU did not respond to a request for comment.
"At the end of the day, there is more than enough money to pay these workers $15 an hour," says Kendall Fells, 34, the leader of Fast Food Forward, who marched with the protesters in New York.
In Europe, Lorenz Keller, who works for the Swiss trade union Unia, said that union members were protesting at several McDonald's stores in Zurich and planned actions in Geneva.
Banner-waving activists in New Zealand were the first to hit the streets on Thursday, at a McDonald's in Auckland.
In the Philippines, young protesters held a singing and dancing flash mob inside a McDonald's on Manila's Quezon Avenue during the morning rush-hour.
In South Korea, activists gathered outside a McDonald's in Seoul, including one protester dressed as Ronald McDonald.
In Japan, co-organizer Manabu Natori, who tried but failed to find a Ronald costume in time, was encouraged by the public response to the minimum-wage protest outside a downtown Tokyo McDonald's.
"We do this ... every month, but there was a huge difference today, as people don't walk by but stop to listen," said Natori, 41, who is on the staff of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, a leftist labor federation.
About 80% of McDonald's restaurants worldwide are independently owned businesses, said company spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem. "McDonald's respects our employees' right to voice their opinions and to protest lawfully and peacefully," she said. "If employees participate in these activities, they are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts."
Glenn Spencer, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president, said in a statement that, "These union-produced, made-for-media protests have repeatedly failed to gain support from more than a handful of actual workers. At some point, unions need this activity to translate into new members to justify the millions of dollars they are pouring into these campaigns."
For workers and protest organizers, the global media attention alone is of huge value. "The Occupy Movement is not dead," says Witold Henisz, management professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "I'm forecasting a period of tension and political activism over what's fair and what's right.
Horovitz reported from McLean, Va.; Alcindor from New York; Woodyard from Los Angeles; MacLeod from Beijing;Hjelmgaard from London.
Copyright 2015 USATODAY.com
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