(MENAFN - AFP) Thousands of workers at McDonald's and other fast food outlets across the United States went on strike Thursday in a growing movement for higher wages.
Workers in 60 cities joined the strike to fight for 15 an hour -- double what most currently earn -- and the right to form a union without retaliation, organizers said.
Protesters gathered outside a McDonald's on New York's posh Fifth Avenue at dawn and workers put down burgers and fries across the country in what organizers called the largest-ever strike to hit the 200 billion fast-food industry.
"They make millions that come from our feet. They can afford to pay us better," Shaniqua Davis, 20, told AFP.
Davis has a one-year-old child and works at a branch of the restaurant in the Bronx where she earns 7.25 an hour.
"I have bills to pay. I need to buy diapers. I can hardly buy food. I am treated good but we need more money."
She said if it wasn't for food stamps and help she received to pay her rent "I would already be on the street."
Tyeisha Batts, 27, works at a Burger King in Manhattan after being fired from her previous job at Wendy's for "taking a break without permission."
She works only 28 hours a week, "because if you work 30 hours they have to give you health insurance."
Batts earns between 80 and 100 a week, but has to pay 30 a week to take the subway from her home in Brooklyn.
"They make millions of profit. We deserve better," she said.
The protest movement first began in New York last November with a strike by 200 workers but quickly spread across the country with strikes in July taking place in Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Kansas City, Milwaukee and St Louis.
On Thursday organizers said the strike will hit some 1,000 major fast-food restaurants, including Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC.
"Hold the burgers, hold the fries, make worker wages supersize!" read a tweet from Fight for 15, a workers organizing committee.
Many of the three million fast-food workers in America don't work full-time and cannot count on tips like those who staff bars and restaurants.
"Many of these workers have children and are trying to support a family," said Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees International Union, which is supporting the strike.
"The median wage (including managerial staff) of 9.08 an hour still falls far below the federal poverty line for a worker lucky enough to get 40 hours a week and never have to take a sick day."
As the movement goes viral, it has become clear that the traditional image of a McDonald's worker -- a carefree adolescent flipping burgers until something better comes along -- has changed.
"More people are looking to this as a real job rather than a transition or entry-level job," said Jefferson Cowie, of Cornell University's Department of Labor Relations, Law, and History.
He told AFP the workers who had gone on strike had chosen "to improve the job rather than improve their prospects by going somewhere else."
Cowie said that while wages have stagnated in the industry since the 1970s, "the recession really did not help." Neither has unemployment and increased difficulty in accessing higher education.
"Class mobility has gone way down in the United States."
During the previous strike in July, McDonald's said workers' individual contracts were a matter for the franchisees who operate more than 80 percent of the company's outlets around the world.
"Employees are paid competitive wages and have access to a range of benefits to meet their individual needs," the company said.
Cowie said he was not optimistic for the short-term success of the strike, highlighting McDonald's point that each franchise is owned by an individual rather than the enterprise.
"It's a really important social pressure (but) they are not going to change things overnight. It will be a huge long-term struggle."