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Fast-food workers to rally in 230 US cities seeking higher pay

[NEW YORK] Fast-food workers will hold rallies in 230 US cities Wednesday in their biggest protest yet for higher pay and union rights.

The events were organized by the union-backed Fight for US$15 campaign, which is demanding that McDonald's Corp and other fast-food chains raise their minimum wages to US$15 and let workers unionise. The protests will be the largest action to date for a movement begun in November 2012, organisers said.

McDonald's said earlier this month it would raise wages and offer paid vacation at US company-owned stores, which account for about 10 per cent of its more than 14,000 domestic restaurants. The move came after a handful of major retail chains announced wage hikes amid a tightening labour market.

McDonald's critics weren't mollified, saying the announcement was a public-relations stunt designed to fend off the growing protest movement. Instead, McDonald's emboldened the protesters, said Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union, the labour group backing the rallies.

"It showed that if we come together things can change," Ms Henry said in an interview. "There's momentum behind working people joining together to improve their lives - that's what this movement is about."

In its pledge to improve wages and benefits, McDonald's joined a growing list of major US employers.

In recent months, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Target Corp. and TJX Cos. have all vowed to boost pay to at least US$9 an hour this year. About 3.13 million workers prepare and serve food in the US, earning an average of US$9.19 an hour, according to government data.

McDonald's Raise McDonald's said it would raise pay at its company-owned stores by at least US$1 above the local minimum wage.

The Oak Brook, Illinois-based chain expects workers to earn more than US$10 an hour, on average, by the end of 2016. McDonald's said about 90,000 employees would get the raises. They won't be given to the approximately 660,000 employees at US restaurants run by franchisees.

The Fight for US$15 movement began in 2012, when about 200 workers walked off the job in New York. The protests have since expanded beyond fast-food to include workers from other low-wage industries, including childcare and home health workers.

On Wednesday, adjunct professors and airport workers also are expected to join the rallies.

McDonald's has said the protests are staged events and that it doesn't set wages at its franchise restaurants.

"Approximately 90 per cent of our US restaurants are independently owned and operated by franchisees who set wages according to job level and local and federal laws," Heidi Barker, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a statement. "McDonald's does not determine the wages set by our more than 3,000 franchisees."

BLOOMBERG