Protesters seek better conditions for fast-food workers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday about minimum wage, saying the gap between rich and poor is far too wide. To fight this gap, the president called for a hike in the federal minimum wage, saying an increase is a good step for families and the economy as a whole.

His minimum wage speech came just a day before hundreds of workers protested Thursday, holding signs and chanting about not being able to survive on today's minimum wage of $7.25.

In Jacksonville, there were seven protesters at a McDonald's restaurant Thursday who were among hundreds nationwide protesting fast-food chains where they say they are not paying employees enough and not providing sick days.

"Everybody who needs a job needs to have a fair wage, needs to be able to make a fair living, and it's not that McDonald's can't afford to do it," protester Karen Christiansen. "If they can afford to pay their execs and the people who run their business, they can afford to pay their workers."

The protesters said that because local fast food workers can't leave their job to protest, they were protesting for them.

"Most restaurants don't give sick days, which means people who are sick with colds are coming in and serving my food and everyone else's food, and I'm very concerned about that," protester Kenneth Christiansen said.

One mother of two who works at a local Subway said it is true for her company that they don't get sick days.

"If I'm sick or one of my kids is sick, I can call someone and get them to cover it," said the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous. "But if they can't cover it, I have to go in. I don't get sick days or vacation days, none of that."

Not only is the mother upset about not having sick days, but she also said she and fellow workers can barely survive on the amount of money they're paid. She makes $7.79, not too much more than the national minimum wage, and said even just a couple of dollars more would help to support her family. She said right now they're barely making ends meet.

"Wouldn't have to stress about not having money or not being able to save money if we ever needed it," she said. "If anything happened, we couldn't save our money because we use every penny of it."

"McDonald's and our owner-operators are committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed," Lisa McComb, a spokeswoman for McDonald's USA, said in a statement. "We offer employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits. And we invest in training and professional development that helps them learn practical and transferable business skills."

McDonald's said the protests Thursday were not strikes but outside groups traveling to the restaurant.

On Wednesday, Obama called for a hike in the federal minimum wage to more than $10 an hour, saying an increase is a good step for families and the economy as a whole. He also made a general push to simplify the tax code, provide more work training in high schools and make it easier for Americans to save for retirement.

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