WASHINGTON (AFP) - Fast-food workers and others in low-pay jobs on Thursday launched one-day strikes and protests across the United States demanding a US$15 (S19.70) an hour minimum wage and union rights.
Organisers said workers at major chains like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Taco Bell walked off their jobs in more than 190 cities, from Los Angeles and Phoenix to Chicago, New York and Washington.
For the first time since fast-food workers began walkouts two years ago, they were joined by workers from convenience stores and markets in 24 cities, the Fight for $15 campaign said in a statement.
Employees in low-wage jobs and labour unions supporting them are pushing to raise the minimum hourly wage to US$15 - about double the current federal minimum of US$7.25.
Workers say they are fed up with pay that does not come close to keeping them out of poverty and the threat of retaliation from employers hostile to them joining or forming unions.
"Every day I look my kids in the face and they realise we live in poverty. They are the reason I fight," Mr Terrence Wise, a 35-year-old father of three who is paid US$9.30 an hour at Burger King in Kansas City, Missouri, said in the statement.
At 10 major airports, baggage handlers, skycaps, wheelchair attendants and aircraft cleaners were demonstrating in support of the strikers, the organisers said.
And home-care workers, which launched the Home Care Fight for $15 campaign in September, were protesting in more than two dozen cities from coast to coast, according to the Fight for $15 campaign.
"Millions of working men and women across this country - white, black and brown - have stood up and stood out together, mounting their offence against extremism and inequality," said Ms Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), in a separate statement.
The SEIU provides organisational and financial support to the Fight for $15 campaign.
"The economy - and our country - are out of balance because so many people are trying to raise families on service-sector pay cheques but are getting crushed as corporations use their power to push down the wage floor," Henry said.
The Fight for $15 movement has grown since a few hundred fast-food workers went on strike in New York in late November 2012 to push for a "living wage" of US$15 an hour.
In August 2013, fast-food workers launched their first national day-long labour strike, in 60 cities, and their outcry has increasingly resonated in national politics.
"Fast-food workers deserve a livable wage to keep families out of poverty. When they fight, I'm proud to fight alongside them," said Ms Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democratic senator, in a tweet.
US President Barack Obama has faced stiff Republican opposition in his push for an increase in the minimum wage to US$10.10 to lift hundreds of thousands of people above the poverty line and reduce the widening income gap.
San Francisco and Seattle have adopted local minimum wage standards of US$15; the state of California raised its lowest pay rate by US$1 to US$9 an hour in July.
On Thursday, even McDonald's food-service workers under contract with the federal government went on strike at the restaurant in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington.
"At McDonald's, we respect everyone's right to peacefully protest," the company said in a statement.
McDonald's said about 90 per cent of its US restaurants are independently owned and operated by franchisees "who set wages according to job level and local and federal laws".
But not all employers play fair, a Labour Department study released on Thursday highlighted. The study found "pervasive" minimum wage violations in California and New York, with more than 300,000 violations in each state monthly.
About 3.5 per cent to 6.8 per cent of jobs covered by federal or state law were not paid the required minimum wage, pushing roughly 7,500 families in each state below the poverty line, the report said.