Tilesha Rice, 36, has been working at a South Los Angeles Burger King for six months as a cashier.
On Thursday, as dozens of her peers and supporters rallied outside her workplace, demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the mother of four said she desperately needs a boost.
"Now, I'm trying to survive with this job but it's only paying for rent," she said. "That's it."
Organizers now say the nationwide protests Thursday have spread to nearly 1,000 fast-food restaurants in 60 cities, with thousands of participants. Planners are calling the effort the largest strike to ever hit the $200-billion fast-food industry.
Outside of Los Angeles, other California cities expected to see action include Alameda, Berkeley, Fremont, Hayward, Richmond, San Diego, San Leandro and San Lorenzo.
The protests, funded in part by the Service Employees International Union, are also set for New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Las Vegas. Targeted eateries include McDonald's, Wendy's and KFC.
Some, though, worry that a minimum-wage bump could negatively impact fast-food workers.
Lee E. Ohanian, an economics professor at UCLA, said most low-wage employees at quick-service eateries are on part-time schedules or are the "youngest and least-educated workers who at the moment aren't the most valuable to their employers because they just don't have the skills yet."
"There's a sense that the more the minimum wage goes up, the more jobs will be taken over by machines or off-shored to countries with lower wages," he added.