Fast food workers strike for higher wages

NEW YORK — Fast-food workers from dozens of countries on six continents are joining the push Thursday for higher pay and worker rights by taking part in strikes and protests.

Workers in more than 30 countries are campaigning for $15 per hour pay and expressing frustration at what they see as unfair working conditions.

Restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC are being targeted. The one-day campaign continues protests launched 18 months ago. A key demand is the right to form a union without retaliation.

As the workday was getting underway in New York, employees at a McDonald's near Penn Station chanted "unfair wages" as other beats drums and blew trumpets.

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. He said that while wages were relatively high in Switzerland so is the cost of living. Some protesters were wearing "sad hamburger costumes," he said.

The Nordic Union of food workers covering Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland released a statement urging people to "do their part" by joining the protests Thursday. A national strike in Italy will take place Friday.

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, in keeping with the nation's love of music, young protesters held a singing and dancing flash mob inside a McDonald's on Manila's Quezon Avenue during the morning rush-hour.

Up to 75 people, mostly aged between 16 and 25, entered the restaurant and sang "Let It Go," from the animated hit film Frozen, said Giline Servidad of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), an advocacy group which coordinated the flash mob.

"We want McDonald's to let go of low pay, and let workers organize, so they can have a better future," Servidad said. "Now the management doesn't allow them to organize."

In South Korea, activists gathered outside a McDonald's in Seoul, including one protester dressed as Ronald McDonald.

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.

China has over 2,000 McDonald's stores and almost 5,000 KFC stores, but no protest activity was planned Thursday. Independent trade unions are illegal in China.

The fast-food industry has so far resisted the demands.

"This is an important discussion that needs to take into account the highly competitive nature of the industries that employ minimum wage workers, as well as consumers and the thousands of small businesses which own and operate the vast majority of McDonald's restaurants," McDonald's told USA Today earlier this month.

Horovitz reported from McLean, Va., MacLeod from Beijing, Hjelmgaard from London.


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