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Austin fast-food workers join national protest for higher wages

More than 50 workers and activists gathered in southeast Austin early Tuesday to join nationwide protests calling for a $15 minimum wage.

Hundreds of workers in Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York also rallied for higher pay and blocked traffic with demonstrations.

In Austin, the protesters stood outside of a McDonald’s restaurant shortly after 6 a.m. in the 2400 block of East Riverside Drive, taking turns telling stories of struggling to make a living in the fast-food industry before marching to several restaurants along the road.

The demonstrators weaved through drive-through lanes as consumers rolled up to grab breakfast. The protesters carried #Fightfor15 signs and shouted rhythmic chants decrying corporate greed.

Mayeane Simms, a mother of three who said she has worked at a Whataburger restaurant for about a year, said she joined the protest because she can’t afford to give her children the things they want or need with the wages she earns.

“I have to scrape up change just to get medicine and diapers and wipes,” she said. “If it was just me and my boyfriend, I’m pretty sure we’d be all right, but with three kids, one in diapers and two in school, and all their stuff, it sucks.”

Some business groups have said that an increase in the minimum wage could result in lost jobs, reduced hours and business closures.

Joshua Perez, another fast food worker, said he organized efforts at a Wendy’s in San Marcos to get air conditioning in the restaurant fixed. He joined the group in Austin in calling for a union that would increase bargaining power to get wages at or above $15 per hour.

“That’s just a symbolic number,” he said. “If you want to actually match the cost of living, it should be higher.”

Austin City Council members Greg Casar and Delia Garza attended the Austin demonstration, along with workers from other fast food chains throughout the area.

“This is an issue that every single one of our elected officials should be losing sleep over,” Garza said. “Our city level, our state level, our federal level should be losing sleep over the fact that our working families are having trouble paying the bills, feeding their families, clothing their families, (and) taking care of their families.”

The protests in Austin ended with no arrests, but about 25 demonstrators in New York and about 40 protesters in Detroit were arrested after blocking intersections.

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