Fast-food workers plan protests Thursday in 100 cities, including KC

12/02/2013 8:00 PM

12/02/2013 8:00 PM

Fast-food workers in about 100 cities, including Kansas City, will walk off the job Thursday, organizers say, which would mark the largest effort yet in a push for higher pay.

The actions would build on a campaign that began about a year ago to call attention to the difficulties of living on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The protests are part of a growing push by labor unions, Democrats and other worker advocacy groups to raise wages in low-wage sectors. Last month, President Barack Obama said he would back a Senate measure to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. That’s more than a dollar higher than the $9 an hour rate he previously proposed.

Protesters are calling for pay of $15 an hour, although many see the figure as a rallying point rather than a near-term possibility.

In Kansas City, organizers expect to begin the day with what they are calling a vigil at 6:30 a.m. at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 3800 Troost Ave. From there, participants are expected to rally in front of several fast-food restaurants.

Organizers said major fast-food chains will be targeted.

It is not clear how large the turnout will be at any given location, or whether the walkouts will be enough to disrupt operations. Similar actions this summer had varying results, with some restaurants unable to serve customers and others seemingly unaffected.

Event leaders in the Kansas City area include Missouri Jobs With Justice, Communities Creating Opportunity, the Stand Up KC Campaign, the Workers Organizing Committee and various locals associated with the AFL-CIO.

The National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, called the demonstrations a “campaign engineered by national labor groups” and said the vast majority of participants were union protesters rather than workers.

The group said that the demonstrations in the past “have fallen well short of their purported numbers.”

Kendall Fells, a New York City-based organizer for Fast Food Forward, said demonstrations are also planned for 100 cities, in addition to the 100 cities where workers will strike. He said plans started coming together shortly after the one-day actions in about 60 cities this summer.

“They understand they’re not going to win from a one-day strike,” Fells said of workers.

Still, organizers face an uphill battle in changing an industry that competes aggressively on low prices, a practice that has intensified as companies including McDonald’s Corp., Burger King Worldwide Inc. and Yum Brands Inc. face growing competition and slow growth in the weak economy.

Fast-food workers have also been seen as difficult to organize, given the industry’s high turnover rates. But the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers in health care, janitorial and other industries, has been providing organizational and financial support to the push for higher pay over the past year.

In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has promised a vote on the wage increase by year’s end, but the measure is not expected to gain traction in the House, where Republican leaders oppose it.

Supporters have succeded in raising the minimum wage at the state and local levels. Last month, voters in New Jersey raised the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour. California, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island also raised their minimum wages this year.

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