Fast food workers strike for higher wages

Dozens of fast food workers held a demonstration outside of a McDonald's in Manhattan Thursday morning. They were part of a worldwide day of protests in 230 cities.

Bruce Horovitz, Yamiche Alcindor,Calum MacLeod, Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY11:39 a.m. EDT May 15, 2014

(Photo: Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Hundreds of fast food workers walked off their jobs in dozens of U.S. cities on Thursday -- reportedly forcing at least a few locations to temporarily close or re-staff while mostly managers filled-in -- as sympathetic protesters in several dozen countries joined in a united call for wages of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

No violence was reported early Thursday. Restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC are being targeted. The strike, targeting the $200 billion fast-food industry at a time of intense competition, is aimed at directing consumer attention to the low wages of most fast-food workers. The one-day campaign continues protests launched 18 months ago.

Strikers claim that managers opted to briefly close down a Burger King in Dorchester, Mass, where a some workers were striking, but Burger King spokesman Alix Salyers insists that store was never closed. While McDonald's officials insist that no McDonald's restaurants have been closed anywhere due to the strike, protesters insist that several have.

In New York City, dozens of workers stood outside a McDonald's nearby Penn Station demanding higher wages and the right to form a union. Protesters partially blocked some entrances to the restaurant where they stalled, but did not halt, sales.

Naquasia LeGrand, 22, of Brooklyn, says this was her sixth strike since 2012. She has worked as a cashier at Kentucky Fried Chicken for three years in Park Slope, an affluent neighborhood in Brooklyn. She makes $8 an hour and pays $1,300 a month for her apartment. She says fast food workers all over are struggling to survive. "We live in New York City--a multi-billion dollar city," she said. "These corporations are taking everything from us. They are making all this money. It's only right that we (workers) come together."

Dijon Thornton, 22, a cashier, has worked at a Wendy's in Harlem for the last year and a half. On Thursday morning, he walked out of work as the store was readying to serve breakfast. For him, the decision was about asking for respect, in the form of better pay. He says that paying him $8 an hour is like "spitting in my face."

The strike's organizer says that the fast-food giants have the money to pay reasonable wages. "At the end of the day, there is more than enough money to pay these workers $15 an hour," says Kendall Fells, the 34-year-old organizer of Fast Food Forward, who marched with protesters in New York on Thursday. Two-thirds of the the workers are women -- and most of them have children, he says. "They're just trying to support their families and makes ends meet."

Fast Food Forward is financed by Service Employees International Union, a union group with more than two million members.

In Europe, Lorenz Keller, who works for the Swiss trade union Unia, said that members from his group were protesting outside several McDonald's branches in Zurich and would soon start actions in Geneva.

Banner-waving activists in New Zealand were the first to hit the streets Thursday, as they protested outside 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 Japan, where protests were planned in 30 cities, co-organizer Manabu Natori failed to find a Ronald costume in time, but was encouraged by the public response to a protest for a higher minimum wage, held outside a downtown Tokyo McDonald's.

"We do this kind of demonstration every month, but there was a huge difference today as people don't walk by but stop to listen," said Natori, 41, a staff member of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, a left-wing labor federation.

About 80% of McDonald's global restaurants are independently owned and operated by small business owners, said Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, a McDonald's spokeswoman, in a statement. "McDonald's respects our employees' right to voice their opinions and to protest lawfully and peacefully. If employees participate in these activities, they are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts."

One U.S. Chamber of Commerce official says the protest is a sham.

"These union-produced, made-for-media protests have repeatedly failed to gain support from more than a handful of actual workers," said vice president Glenn Spencer, in a statement.

For workers and organizers of the strike, the media attention on a global basis is huge.

"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., MacLeod from Beijing, Hjelmgaard from London.

Demonstrators holding posters march during a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers in Tokyo on May 15.(Photo: Toru Hanai, Reuters)