Fast-food protests spread overseas

 McDonald’s employee Connie Ogletree, 55, right, leads a group of fast food workers and supporters in a chant during a protest outside a Krispy Kreme store, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Atlanta. Calling for higher pay and the right to form a union without retaliation, fast-food chain workers in Atlanta protested Thursday as part of a wave of strikes and protests in 150 cities across the U.S. and 33 additional countries on six continents. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

By Candice Choi, Associated Press
May 15, 2014

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.

Industry groups say such pay hikes would hurt their ability to create jobs and note that many of the participants are not workers.

The protests are being backed by the Service Employees International Union and began in New York City in late 2012. Since then, organizers have steadily ramped up actions to keep the issue in the spotlight.

In March, for instance, 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 on Thursday, demonstrators did not seem to disrupt operations at targeted restaurants. The scope of actions planned for overseas also differed depending on the country.

In Denmark, McDonald’s worker Louise Marie Rantzau said the plan was to take a photo outside 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 before dispersing. The manager on duty inside said no employees from the store were participating. A handful of customers squeezed past the protesters to get inside.

Although many customers say they’re not aware of the ongoing actions, 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 on Thursday against how the chain pays its top executives.

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 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, since 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 “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.”

The National Restaurant Association called the actions “nothing more than big labor’s attempt to push their own agenda.”

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