Fast-food restaurant employees in Los Angeles joined the largest-ever strike to hit the billion-dollar industry on Thursday, walking off their jobs for the first time in the city.
The workers are demanding a pay increase to $15 an hour -- federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, California's minimum rate is $8 per hour -- and the right to form a union without retaliation or unfair labor practices as part of a larger movement in more than 50 cities across the country.
The Los Angeles area is home to more than 181,000 fast food workers, where the median wage for the job is $9 an hour -- just $11,232 annually, according to Good Jobs LA, a grassroots organization focused on reclaiming the "American Dream."
"The situation is I need more money to pay the bills," said Tilesha Rice, a Burger King employee and mother of three children, who attended a rally Thursday morning in South Los Angeles.
The walk off drew workers from McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Taco Bell, El Pollo Loco, Jack in the Box and other retail stores throughout the city. The group in South Los Angeles also included union members.
Rally participants carried signs that read, "We are Worth More: Strike for 15."
Restaurant industry officials claim the jobs offer opportunities to young workers.
"Only 5 percent of restaurant employees earn the minimum wage, and those that do are predominantly working part-time and half are teenagers," Scott Defife, of the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.
Burger King also released a statement in which it touted opportunities for advancement.
"For decades, Burger King restaurants have provided an entry point into the workforce for millions of Americans, including many of the system's franchisees who began their careers working at local Burger King restaurants."
The Southern California strike comes in the wake of walkouts by workers around the country earlier this summer, including from Walmart, car washes and warehouses, and port drivers -- including a group of port truck drivers in Carson, Calif, on Tuesday.
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour was last increased in July 2009. California's minimum wage was raised 50 cents to $8 per hour in January 2008.
Many states have minimum wage laws that set a different rate than the federal law. In those states, the higher standard applies.
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