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Fast-Food Workers Hold Protests For Higher Pay

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Fast food workers hold protest in New York City on 28th Street near Fifth Avenue on May 15, 2014. (Credit: Nicholas Overton)

Fast food workers hold protest in New York City on 28th Street near Fifth Avenue on May 15, 2014. (Credit: Nicholas Overton)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/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 New York City Thursday, a couple hundred demonstrators beat drums, blew whistles and chanted in the rain outside a Domino’s for about a half hour.

“You think it’s fair that my CEO is making almost $15,000 an hour while I’m struggling to make $11,000 a year,” one protester, who said she works at a KFC in Brooklyn, told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern.

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.

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.

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, which was last raised in 2009, translates to about $15,000 a year for a full-time job.

In March, lawsuits filed in three states accused McDonald’s of engaging in practices that deprive workers of their rightful wages, such as the denial of breaks and overtime pay. Workers were referred to lawyers by union organizers, who announced protests over “wage theft” the following week.

Last week, workers and union representatives from countries including Argentina, China, El Salvador, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom met in New York City to strategize for the first day of global actions.

The meeting was led by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations.

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.”

The industry group said that rather than “demonizing” companies, the focus should instead be on “increased access to education and job training opportunities.”

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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