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Las Vegas fast-food workers among those nationwide calling for higher wages

Some Las Vegas fast-food workers on Thursday joined their counterparts in other parts of the country to call for a $15 an hour wage.

Workers walked off the job Thursday morning in demonstrations that coincided with strikes in about 60 cities across the country.

Protests in Las Vegas centered at two McDonald’s restaurants and a KFC. According to a statement from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, workers planned to walk off the job at McDonalds at 8425 Centennial Parkway in Las Vegas, McDonald’s at 2248 Paradise Road in Las Vegas and KFC at 2312 S. Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas at times varying from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

In Las Vegas, a few dozen people gathered along the street outside a McDonald’s, chanting and carrying signs that read “Strike for a living wage” and “Huelga por $15,” Spanish for “Strike for $15.” But an employee at the restaurant said it stayed open throughout the demonstration. Protesters went inside a different McDonald’s later in the morning to deliver a strike notice.

Reached late Thursday, Jaime Roblebo, a manager at the McDonald’s on Centennial Parkway, said he was a middle-of-the day shift manager and uncertain of the effects on the restaurant earlier in the day.

Organizers say fast-food workers are getting paid a median wage of $9.67 an hour and are forced to rely on public assistance to make ends meet. According to the statement from PLAN, there are more than 27,000 fast-food workers in Las Vegas. The statement cited a model developed by a MIT professor that says an adult with one child needs to make $20.67 an hour working full time in the Las Vegas area to afford the basics.

In addition to higher wagers, workers were calling for a right to form a union without interference from employers.

Across the nation, fast-food workers and their supporters beat drums, blew whistles and chanted slogans on picket lines in dozens of U.S. cities, marking the largest protests yet in their quest for higher wages. The nationwide day of demonstrations came after similar actions organized by unions and community groups over the past several months.

Thursday’s walkouts and protests reached about 60 cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, organizers said. But the turnout varied significantly. Some targeted restaurants were temporarily unable to do business because they had too few employees, and others seemingly operated normally.

Ryan Carter, a 29-year-old who bought a $1 cup of coffee at a New York McDonald’s where protesters gathered, said he “absolutely” supported the demand for higher wages.

“They work harder than the billionaires in this city,” he said. But Carter said he didn’t plan to stop his regular trips to McDonald’s.

Jobs in low-wage industries have led the economic recovery. Advocates for a higher minimum wage say that makes it crucial that they pay enough for workers who support families.

The restaurant industry says it already operates on thin margins and insists that sharply higher wages would lead to steeper prices for customers and fewer opportunities for job seekers. McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. say they don’t make decisions about pay for the independent franchisees that operate most of their U.S. restaurants. At restaurants that it owns, McDonald’s said any move to raise entry-level pay would raise overall costs and lead to higher menu prices.

The drive for better pay comes as the White House, some members of Congress and economists seek to raise the federal minimum wage. But most proposals are for a more modest increase, with President Barack Obama suggesting $9 an hour.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers in health care, janitorial and other industries, has been providing financial support and training for local organizers in the fast-food strikes around the country.

The National Retail Federation called the actions “yet more theater orchestrated by organized labor, for organized labor.” The group said it showed the labor movement is facing depleted membership rolls.

Walkouts were also planned Thursday in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Seattle, St. Louis, Hartford, Conn., Memphis, Tenn., and other cities. Organizers said they expected thousands of workers and their allies to turn out, but the number of actual participants was unclear.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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