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Fast-food workers strike, seeking $15 wage, political muscle

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 11/10/2015 Paul Davidson
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Fast-food workers demanding a $15 an hour wage walked out in dozens cities at 6 a.m. today, kicking off a year-long campaign to muster the political power of 64 million low-wage workers in next year's presidential election.

The protests, which will take place in 270 cities today, mark the workers' largest show of force in the three years since they launched a series of rallies to call for higher pay, according to Fight for $15, which represents the workers and is backed by the Service Employees International Union.

Tens of thousands of workers and supporters were expected to take part in today's demonstrations, which began around dawn at McDonald's outlets in downtown Brooklyn, Boston and Philadelphia, among other locations.Protests in as many as 700 additional cities were planned by low-paid home care, child care, farm, FedEx, nursing home and other workers throughout the day.

Kheila Cox, 38, is walking off her job as a $10-an-hour baggage handler at Boston's Logan Airport to join a march this afternoon from Faneuil Hall to the Massachusetts State House.

"It's not just the financial piece, it's also about the dignity," says Cox, who has seven children.

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In contrast to their nine previous walkouts, the workers are putting an emphatic political stamp on Tuesday's activity. They'll parade to local city halls in the late afternoon and the daylong offensive is expected to culminate with a protest by several thousand workers at the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee Tuesday night.

Most of the Republican candidates oppose raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, saying it will hurt job growth. The restaurant industry says it will force employers to replace workers with technology, such as touch-screen ordering tablets.

Democratic front-runner Hilary Clinton recently said she supports a $12 federal pay floor, while Bernie Sanders and Walter O'Malley favor a $15 minimum. They cite the issue as key to closing the widening gap between rich and poor.

Already an influential political force, the workers plan to use their new-found muscle to sway local, state and national elections exactly 12 months from now and say they'll back any candidate of any party who supports their cause. The Fight for $15 group says it will hold voter registration drives and neighborhood parties to coax the workers to the polls.

A recent survey by the National Employment Law Project found that most unregistered voters would sign up and registered voters would be more likely to vote if a candidate backs a $15 hourly wage -- groups that represents 48 million potential voters.

"People are going to be looking for that in a candidate" and will vote for politicians "that are responsive to their economic well-being," says NELP Executive Director Christine Owens.

The workers' crusade for $15 seemed quixotic when it began in November 2012 in New York City. But it has been cited as a chief catalyst as cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco recently decided to raise their minimum wage to $15, and as companies such as McDonald's, Walmart and Target agreed to increase worker pay.

Contributing: Trisha Thadani

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