Fast-food workers plan to strike in 190 U.S. cities

Fast-food workers in more than 190 U.S. cities are expected to walk off their jobs Thursday, the latest in a series of protests demanding a higher minimum wage and the opportunity to unionize.

These planned labor disruptions are part of a campaign that began two years ago with nationwide strikes and that flared most recently in September. The walkouts are backed by one of the country's largest labor organizations, the Service Employees International Union. And organizers say their movement is gaining momentum.

"Seattle and San Francisco passed laws raising wages to $15 over the next couple years, and cities from New York to Los Angeles are pushing for higher wages too," according to the website of StrikeFastFood, a group involved in planning the walkouts. "But there's still a long way to go before every worker gets $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. It's going to be a hard fight, but we know we can do it. We don't have any other choice."

McDonald's (MCD) is expected to be the focus of this week's work stoppages.

"These are not 'strikes,' but are organized rallies for which demonstrators are transported to various locations, and are often paid for their participation," a McDonald's spokesperson said in an statement. "At McDonald's we respect everyone's right to peacefully protest."

The protests come at the end of a year where the issue of rising income inequality in the U.S. has become a political and economic football. The call for a $15 an hour wage was also picked up recently by some workers at the world's largest retailer, Walmart (WMT), who say they struggle to support themselves and their families on their pay at the company.

Many fast-food workers are also finding themselves in a financial bind, even when they work a full weekly schedule. According to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, the restaurant industry's median wage, including tips, is $10 an hour, compared with $18 per hour for non-restaurant work.

"While there are certainly employers in the restaurant industry who provide high-quality jobs," the liberal think tank says, "by and large the industry consists of very low-wage jobs with few benefits and many restaurant workers live in poverty or near-poverty."