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Pay protests by fast-food workers

Published 15/04/2015

McDonald's has announced a pay rise for workers at its company-owned stores
McDonald's has announced a pay rise for workers at its company-owned stores

Protests for pay of 15 US dollars an hour and a union for fast-food and other low-wage workers are set to take place around the US.

The push comes just two weeks after McDonald's announced a pay rise for workers at its company-owned stores, suggesting the chain is trying to take control of its image as an employer.

The Fight for 15 campaign is being spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union and began in late 2012 with fast-food workers.

Since then, the campaign has morphed to rally a variety of low-wage workers, including airport workers and home care workers. Adjunct professors will be among the latest to join the demonstrations, which organisers say are planned for more than 230 cities and college campuses.

Kendall Fells, organising director for Fight for 15, said McDonald's remains a focus of the protests and that the company's recent pay rise shows fast-food workers already have a de facto union.

"It shows the workers are winning," he said.

The first national pay policy announced by McDonald's includes a starting salary that's 1 US dollar above the local minimum wage, and the ability to accrue paid time off. It only applies to workers at company-owned stores, however, which account for about 10% of more than 14,300 locations. That means McDonald's is digging in its heels over a central issue for labour organisers: Whether it has the power to set wages at franchised restaurants.

McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's say they do not control the employment decisions at franchised restaurants. The SEIU is working to change that and hold McDonald's responsible for labour conditions at franchised restaurants.

The demonstrations got an early start on Tuesday afternoon in Boston, where several hundred people including college students, low-wage workers and their supporters gathered for a rally. In the evening, protesters in Detroit gathered inside a McDonald's, and organisers say three employees walked off the job as part of the protests.

In an emailed statement, McDonald's said it respects the right to "peacefully protest" and that its restaurants will remain open. In the past, it said only about 10 to 15 McDonald's workers out of about 800,000 have participated.

In a recent column in The Chicago Tribune, McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook described the pay hike and other perks as "an initial step" and said he wants to transform McDonald's into a "modern, progressive burger company".

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