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'Super-size' strike: Why fast-food workers walked out for higher wages

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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

(Read caption) Workers and their supporters protest outside a Burger King in Los Angeles on Thursday. The event is part of a broad strike by fast-food workers – the largest ever for the industry – to call for wages of $15 an hour.

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Fast-food workers across America are going on strike Thursday in what they hope will be the largest strike ever for their industry.

Workers in at least 35 cities are expected to picket chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Wendy’s to demand higher wages and the right to unionize.

In July, about 2,200 fast-food workers participated in a one-day strike in seven cities, the largest effort to date. That followed nearly a year of protests that originated in New York City in November 2012.

“Hold the burgers! Hold the fries! Make our wages super-size!” chanted strikers outside a McDonald’s in Detroit Thursday. 

Protesters are calling for $15-an-hour wages, more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which would increase the annual earnings of a full-time employee from $15,000 a year to $31,000 a year.

While a young workforce and quick turnover have traditionally characterized the fast-food industry, protesters say the Great Recession caused more parents and older workers to rely on fast-food jobs. But they can’t survive on current wages, they say.

“Because of the difficulty of getting jobs in general … for people with relatively modest education levels, you have a lot of people working in these companies who are trying to support a family based upon their earnings alone,” Ronald Ehrenberg, a professor of industrial and labor relations and economics at Cornell University, told Time. “That’s very, very difficult to do.”

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