NEW YORK — Fast-food workers and their supporters beat drums, blew whistles and chanted slogans Thursday on picket lines in about 60 U.S. cities, including Tampa, marking the largest protests yet in their quest for higher wages.
Turnout varied significantly: Some targeted restaurants were temporarily unable to do business because they had too few employees, and others seemingly operated normally.
The nationwide day of demonstrations came after similar actions organized by unions and community groups over the past several months. Workers are calling for the right to unionize without interference from employers and for pay of $15 an hour, more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Advocates for a higher minimum wage say it's crucial that they pay enough for workers to 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.
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 latest protests follow a series of strikes that began in November in New York City. The biggest effort so far was over the summer when, organizers say, about 2,200 people staged one-day demonstrations in seven cities.
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 company said it provides professional development for interested employees and that the protests don't give an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald's.
"We respect our employees' rights to voice their opinions. Employees who participate in these activities and return to work are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts as usual," McDonald's said in an emailed statement.
Wendy's said in a statement that it was "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."