Kansas City workers protest with Stand Up KC in national push for $15 minimum wage

March for higher minimum wage in Kansas City

Hundreds of protesters marched in Kansas City on Thursday as part of rallies demanding an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Video by: ALLISON LONG |
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Hundreds of protesters marched in Kansas City on Thursday as part of rallies demanding an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Video by: ALLISON LONG |

More than 100 fast-food employees, janitors, home health care workers and adjunct professors gathered in protest Thursday in Kansas City, joining others across the country in calling for a $15 minimum wage and a union.

A workers strike Thursday morning at a McDonald’s restaurant in Kansas City, Kan., began a day of protests targeting the world’s biggest hamburger chain. An afternoon rally at East 63rd Street and the Paseo, organized locally by activists with Stand Up KC as part of the national Fight for $15 campaign, drew sympathetic labor leaders from other industries and testimonials from low-wage workers.

Bridget Hughes, a mother of four, said she works at Wendy’s making $8.75 an hour. She told of growing up with a mother who worked similar jobs in fast food and at gas stations and diners. At times, Hughes said, she was pulled out of school when the family lost their home and became temporarily homeless. Now, she said, despite going into debt to pursue higher education, she faces the same struggles.

“I now protect my own children. They don’t know I skip meals so they can eat,” Hughes said. “They don’t know that when they go to visit Grandma for a while, it’s because we have no gas, electricity or water in the house. I feel powerless, and I feel defeated.”

But, Hughes said, “today is strike day. Today is a good day.”

Elsewhere, workers planned strikes Thursday in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. In Paris, about 100 people waving red union flags protested outside a McDonald’s at Disneyland.

The Fight for $15 campaign says it targets McDonald’s because of its ability to influence pay practices throughout the economy. The push is backed by the Service Employees International Union and began in 2012 with strikes in New York City.

The campaign takes place as McDonald’s tries to reinvigorate its business and win back customers. Lisa McComb, a McDonald’s representative, said the company gives workers access to programs that help them earn high school and college degrees. She said McDonald’s raised pay last year to $1 above the local minimum wage for workers at company-owned stores in the U.S., which account for about 10 percent of its more than 14,000 locations.

In Kansas City, McDonald’s workers have said such moves are far from addressing their daily needs.

Workers who gathered in Kansas City pointed to the diversity of their ranks, which reach beyond the fast-food industry and include many college-educated professionals. Like other recent rallies, protesters added calls for greater racial equality and social justice.

Kimmy DeVries, a Kansas City preschool teacher, said that even with a recent pay increase to $14.20, she can barely pay rent and bills while sharing a home with two roommates. Her $90,000 in student loan debt does not help, she said.

“It’s really hard to pay all of my bills and be the best teacher I can be.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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