A small group of people gathered on a downtown corner in San Diego to demand a higher wage for fast-food restaurant workers as part of a national day of protest.
Holding signs and chanting “poverty wage has got to go,” a handful of workers from the restaurant chains McDonald's, Wendy's, Subway, Chipotle and Taco Bell joined the effort to ask for better wages.
Among the demands: for workers to make $15 an hour and be given the right to unionize without interference from their employers.
Debra Flores, 20, earns $8 an hour as a cashier at Wendy's to supplement another part-time position she holds earning her $10 an hour.
She walked out on her 4-hour shift Thursday at the restaurant located inside the Spreckels Building.
Even though the wage is low, she said it’s not easy to get a better-paying job.
“It’s hard getting another job because people are not hiring or they don’t make that much,” Flores said.
Flores and her two-year-old daughter live with her mother who receives federal assistance. She said their rent is currently $400/month but that could triple once her mother no longer receives that federal assistance.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which works out to about $15,000 a year for full-time employees. California minimum wage is $8 an hour.
“There’s nothing they can do with $8 an hour to support themselves,” Flores said of fast-food workers.
San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez joined the rally held on the same day as others in cities all across the country including in Los Angeles and Oakland.
“We really got to correct this wrong,” Alvarez told the crowd. “It’s time for us to do what’s right for all people to give them some justice for the work that they do. Standing up for 8 hours a day is not easy.”
Several restaurant chain addressed protestors saying their companies offer entry-level positions for people without much work experience.
McDonald's: “McDonald's aims to offer competitive pay and benefits to our employees. We provide training and professional development for all of those who wish to take advantage of those opportunities. Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald's."
Wendy's: “We are proud to provide a place where thousands of people, who come to us asking for a job, can enter the workforce at a starting wage, gain skills and advance with us or move on to something else."
Burger King: “Over 99% of all Burger King restaurants in the United States are independently owned and operated by third party franchisees. As a corporation, we respect the rights of all workers; however, Burger King Corp. does not make hiring, firing or other employment-related decisions for our franchisees.”
The restaurant industry has said sharply higher wages would lead to steeper prices for customers.
The White House, some members of Congress and economists are proposing an increase to the federal minimum wage but most proposals are for a more modest increase, with President Barack Obama suggesting $9 an hour.
Starbucks spokesman Zack Huston said the strikes have not affected the company's stores. He noted that Starbucks employees earn "competitive wages" and affordable health care that other retailers do not provide for part-time workers.