Hundreds of workers at McDonald's and other fast food outlets across New York went on strike Monday for higher wages in a movement organizers hope will spread nationwide.
Sporadic walkouts left managers to serve customers at flagship McDonald's outlets on Times Square and 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
Organizers said the strike had hit around 60 restaurants operated by McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC and Burger King across the New York area.
The striking workers are demanding the introduction of a standard wage of $15/hour, more than twice the $7.25 minimum wage that many fast food employees earn here. The average wage in the sector in New York is around $9/hour and, unlike staff in mainstream restaurants, employees cannot count on their income being topped up by tips.
Jonathan Westin, director of Fast Food Forward, the campaign group spearheading the strike movement, said workers needed $15/hour to meet basic living standards in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
"A lot of the workers are living in poverty, not able to put food on the table or take the train to work," Westin said. "They are striking because they can't continue to maintain their families on the wages they're being paid in the fast food industry."
Fast Food Forward began as a local campaign in New York but the movement has spread across the country, and protests are also scheduled to take place this week in Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Michigan, Kansas City, Milwaukee and St Louis.
"It will be by far one of the biggest actions (in the sector) this country has seen so far," Westin predicted.
With an estimated 400 workers having walked out by mid-day, the strike was twice the size of a similar one staged in November, but the numbers involved represented a tiny proportion of the estimated 50,000 fast food workers in the city.
At a McDonald's on 3rd Avenue, the exclusively black or Latino employees were unaware of the protest movement and one of them said he would not contemplate going on strike for fear of being dismissed.
"Sure we'd all like $15 a hour, just can't see it happening any time soon, that's all," the employee, who did not want to give his name, told AFP. "I think we'd all be fired first."
McDonald's said in a statement that the individual contracts of workers were a matter for the franchisees who operate more than 80 percent of the company's outlets around the world.
"Employees are paid competitive wages and have access to a range of benefits to meet their individual needs," the company said.