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Fast-food workers announce global protest, walkouts set for 33 countries

Employees plan to expand movement to demand better pay and working conditions across the world

Fast-food workers are planning a global strike for better pay and working conditions, with actions set to take place in 150 U.S. cities and 32 other countries in a bid to exert pressure on multinational companies.

Strikes are planned for May 15 across five continents in countries including Morocco, Japan, India, Belgium, Germany, Brazil, Argentina and New Zealand, where workers will stage a protest at the McDonald’s headquarters in Auckland, according to a statement by activist group Fast Food Forward. Other strikes will target Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC.

The actions were announced Wednesday in Manhattan, New York, at a meeting during which fast-food workers and union leaders detailed how they intended to expand a movement that began with a walkout in November 2012. On that occasion, some 200 workers went on strike in New York City, demanding a pay increase to $15 per hour and the right to unionize without retaliation.

Since then, thousands have followed, organizing protests in more than 100 cities across the U.S., where workers’ demand to earn a ‘living’ wage in an economy that increasingly relies on low-income jobs has become a national rallying cry.

“It’s amazing that our fight for $15 and a union has inspired workers around the world to come together,” said Ashley Cathey, a McDonald’s employee in Memphis, Tenn. “The highly-profitable fast-food industry needs to know we won’t stop fighting until our voices are heard,” she added.

In the U.S., more than two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and many single mothers struggle to take care of their families on $7.25 per hour ­­­­— or less, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

In March, McDonald’s agreed to pay $500,000 to workers who filed a class-action suit against the company alleging wage theft. A nationwide survey found 90 percent of fast-food workers reported money was taken from their wages illegally. Similar cases are pending in Michigan and California. 

Ron Oswald, general secretary of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), said U.S. fast-food workers inspired workers internationally to join them “in a fight for higher pay and better rights on the job.” The IUF represents 12 million workers in 126 countries.

“This is just the beginning of an unprecedented international fast-food worker movement — and this highly profitable global industry better take note," he said in a statement. 

In Denmark, one McDonald's employee said she planned to protest in solidarity with workers in the U.S.

“In Denmark, McDonald's pays me $21 an hour and respects our union, so I was surprised when I heard workers in the U.S. had to fight so hard for just $15 and better rights," Louise Marie Rantzau said in a statement. “Fast-food companies need to treat the people who make and serve their food with the same respect everywhere and workers in Denmark are committed to supporting the workers' cause until that happens,” she added.

In a notable success for the movement to increase pay, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a plan last week to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, the highest in the country, in response to unions’ growing calls to close the income gap.

McDonald’s has taken notice of the growing unrest, warning shareholders of the threat of protests and declining morale among workers in their latest annual report in which they signal potential risks to market analysts who adjust share prices accordingly.

McDonald’s was not immediately available for comment. 

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