Fast-food workers around the world rallied for a higher minimum wage Thursday in what organizers called the largest protest of its kind.
The movement, which began as a single walkout in New York in 2012 before spreading across the U.S. last year, sparked gatherings Thursday in 150 U.S. cities and in 33 countries on six continents, according to planners.
Social media on Thursday was filled with photos of crowds of protesters outside McDonald’s restaurants, Burger Kings and KFC outlets in New York, Ireland, India, Japan and elsewhere.
Protesters called for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the right to form unions without retaliation from bosses.
They argued that drive-through workers aren’t just teenagers looking for spending money but rather are often heads of households, many of whom must seek public assistance to make ends meet.
Some cities, counties and states are proposing or pushing through minimum-wage increases. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law raising the minimum wage in California to $10 an hour by 2016. This month, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray unveiled a plan for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in the city.
But on Thursday, the libertarian Cato Institute said paying fast-food workers $15 an hour could lead companies to cut jobs and boost menu prices. The right-leaning Employment Policies Institute said that nearly 500,000 workers nationwide could lose their jobs.
In a regulatory filing this year, McDonald’s noted that “the impact of events such as boycotts or protests, labor strikes and supply chain interruptions” could “adversely affect” the company and its supply network.
In the same document, McDonald’s listed key factors that could affect its operations.
On the list, the company placed “the impact on our margins of labor costs that we cannot offset through price increases, and the long-term trend toward higher wages and social expenses in both mature and developing markets, which may intensify with increasing public focus on matters of income inequality.”
McDonald’s workers have filed a spate of lawsuits against the company, accusing the fast-food giant of systematically keeping their wages low and committing other labor violations.