By Peter Schroeder - 05/15/14 10:26 AM EDT
Fast food workers went on strike in dozens of cities in the United States and abroad Thursday, pushing for higher wages.
The action is the latest in a series of one-day strikes deployed by workers at major fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King, as they try to draw attention to wages they claim do not provide enough to live on, and demand the right to unionize.
“The message is clear: Corporations should pay their employees' fair wages and Congress should act so no one gets left behind. Only then will we have an economy that works for all working people,” he added.
Workers have joined with labor advocates and those sympathetic to the cause several times in the past to hold temporary strikes to draw attention to the wage issue. While there were some reports of franchises having to close their doors temporarily as protesters blocked the entrance, there was little indication Thursday the strikes would have a lasting impact on business operations.
Thursday’s protests carried a more global flair than previous efforts, as there were reports of strikes from places across Europe and Asia. The coordinated effort kicked off in New Zealand.
The protests come as Democrats and the White House continue to push for an increase to the minimum wage. Democrats are pushing a populist economic message ahead of the midterm elections, and President Obama has emphasized a similar message throughout the year. In February, he signed an executive order that increased the minimum wage for federal contractors.
But Democrats in Congress have had little luck on that front. In April, Republicans blocked a Senate bill that would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. Democrats say they plan to bring it up for another vote in the near future, but even if the Senate passed a measure, it is highly unlikely the GOP-led House would follow suit.
Meanwhile, Republicans and the business community have been hotly critical of the push, arguing such a hike would end up costing jobs as business expenses rose.
But the protests' backers argue the fast food industry reaps billions of dollars, and can afford to pay its workers better. They say that for fast food workers, 52 percent of families have to rely on at least one public assistance program, compared with 25 of the overall workforce.
Business groups criticized the strikes on Thursday.
“These union-produced, made-for-media protests have repeatedly failed to gain support from more than a handful of actual workers," said Glenn Spencer, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"At some point, unions need this activity to translate into new members to justify the millions of dollars they are pouring into these campaigns,” he said.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a former McDonald’s employee himself, threw his support behind the latest protests.
“It's clear this movement isn’t going to stop until fast-food companies listen to the voices of these workers,” he tweeted Thursday.
This story was updated at 11:40 a.m.