SPOKANE, Wash.-- Fast-food workers in Spokane and around the country protested Tuesday demanding $15 an hour for minimum wage.
In Spokane, workers stood outside the Arby's on Third Avenue and Washington with signs with sayings like "$uper Size My Wage."
The Tuesday protest kicks off a year-long campaign to muster the political power of 64 million low-wage workers in next year's presidential election.
The walkouts marked the workers' largest show of force in the three years since they launched a series of rallies to call for higher pay and the right to unionize, according to Fight for $15, a group advocating a $15-per-hour minimum wage. The group is backed by the Service Employees International Union.
Tens of thousands of workers and supporters were taking part in rallies planned for 1,000 cities across the nation, beginning around dawn at McDonald's outlets in downtown Brooklyn, Boston and Philadelphia, among other locations. Protests also were taking place for low-paid home care, child care, farm, nursing home and other workers seeking to make their voices heard.
Most of the Republican candidates oppose raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, saying it will hurt job growth.
The National Restaurant Association says a $15 base wage would force employers to replace workers with technology, such as touch-screen ordering tablets. And it notes that about 90% of restaurants are small businesses that lack deep pockets. "Fifteen dollars is too far, too fast," says group spokeswoman Christin Fernandez.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton recently said she supports a $12 federal pay floor, while Bernie Sanders and Martin 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.