Fast-food protests: March in downtown Los Angeles, cities nationwide

Fast-food workers seek $15-an-hour pay, protest in cities around the nation.

Fast-food workers and their supporters rallied in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday as part of a wave of protests planned in 160 cities around the nation advocating for $15-an-hour pay.

In downtown L.A., protesters gathered for a late morning rally that started near a McDonald's on Broadway and then headed for City Hall.

Fast-food workers have been gathering for similar protests during the last two years to fight for better pay and working conditions. They were joined Thursday by home-care workers and low-wage workers from Los Angeles International Airport, who say they want to be paid $15 an hour as well.

The protests are backed by the Service Employees International Union and local activist groups that have sought to spotlight the plight of low-wage workers and push for higher pay by staging protests and walkouts in cities around the country. 

Mary Carmen, 45, said she needs $15 an hour to take care of her four kids. The Burger King employee, whose husband also earns minimum wage as a busboy, said she hopes that all of her children eventually follow in the steps of their oldest sister, who just started as a freshman at UC Riverside. But Carmen said she needs to earn more than $9 an hour to help her kids with tuition and living expenses.

"I am fighting for my rights and for full-time work," the Hollywood resident said.

Many fast-food chains and independent restaurants have said that a $15 hourly wage would force them to increase menu prices and struggle to turn a profit. If minimum wages were raised, some analysts say, restaurants will try to adjust by cutting hours for employees or reducing their workforces.

McDonald's issued a statement Thursday noting that 90% of its U.S. restaurants are owned by franchisees "who set wages according to job level and local and federal laws."

“At McDonald’s, we respect everyone’s right to peacefully protest," the statement said. "The topic of minimum wage goes well beyond McDonald’s -- it affects our country’s entire workforce.

"McDonald’s and our independent franchisees support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace. We believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on owners of small and medium-sized businesses -- like the ones who own and operate the majority of our restaurants -- is manageable," McDonald's said.

"Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of 'full time' employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses' owners."

The fight for higher pay has gained steam this year as rallies, sit-ins and strikes have raised awareness of the issue.

In June, Seattle leaders voted to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest minimum of any metropolis in the country. The Los Angeles Unified School District signed a contract in July to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2016, which will boost the earnings of its lowest-paid employees, including custodians and cafeteria workers.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is pushing for a $13.25 minimum wage for all workers in L.A. by 2017. California's current minimum wage is $9 an hour.

Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ShanLi

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