NEW YORK (Reuters) -- U.S. fast-food workers kicked off a nationwide protest in New York on Tuesday backing higher wages and union rights in a campaign they hope will catch the attention of candidates in the 2016 elections.
A couple hundred protesters marched in downtown Brooklyn, blocking traffic and carrying banners reading "A living wage = quality care" and "On strike for work that sustains families." The protesters stopped to rally outside a McDonald's restaurant.
Organizers of the Fight for $15 campaign say the protests will be followed by rallies in 500 cities by low-wage workers in such sectors as fast food and home and child care.
The protests and strikes are aimed at gaining candidates' support heading into the 2016 U.S. presidential election for a minimum wage of $15 an hour and union rights, the group said.
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"The money I bring home can barely take care of my rent," said protester Alvin Major, 50, a Guyanese native who said he earns about $1,200 a month at a Brooklyn KFC, not enough to cover expenses of his four children and ill wife. "We need a wage that could take care of our basic necessities."
The Fight for $15 campaign began in late 2012 and a major backer is the Service Employees International Union. Last December the group staged similar protests in some 200 cities.
Protesters planned to rally in Milwaukee outside the site of Tuesday's televised debate of Republican presidential candidates. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who backs a $15 federal minimum wage, was to gather with protesters on Capitol Hill, his office said.
Industry lobby groups contend the proposed pay raises would be economically unsustainable and cause them to cut jobs.
The higher wage campaign has won over New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. He pushed through a measure in July that would raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers in New York City to $15 by 2018 and statewide by 2021.
At a McDonald's restaurant in Oakland, California, a cashier who identified herself only as Vanessa said she had signed a flyer about the protest but had heard nothing more. protesters were present at the restaurant.
With her manager nearby, Vanessa said she had spent seven or eight years working at minimum wage and was earning more than $10 an hour.
"It would be nice to get $15," she said with a laugh. "We're earning it."
Many U.S. cities and municipalities have set a higher base rate than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
The strikes and protests will include workers from McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, KFC and other restaurants, the campaign's statement said.
The scheduled protests were to take place as McDonald's holds an investor meeting.
A September poll by Quinnipiac University found that 62 percent of New York voters supported raising the minimum wage to $15 over the next few years.
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