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Seattle Fast Food Workers Strike For $15 Wage

KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

Fast-food workers and union activists in Seattle and Tacoma joined a nationwide rally Thursday aimed to bring attention to a drive for a $15 minimum wage.Organizers with the grassroots group, Good Jobs Seattle, said about 100 people turned out at Westlake Park Thursday morning to kick off the day.

Around 9 a.m., about two dozen protesters raised picket signs outside various chain restaurants in downtown Seattle, including Subway, Wendy’s and Burger King.

[asset-images[{"caption": "", "fid": "5655", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201308/P1030576_0.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]

Christina Rodriguez, 25, walked off her job at a Subway in downtown Seattle Thursday morning, although she said her manager gave her the ultimatum to stay at work or lose her job.

Rodriguez says her $10 an hour wages mainly go towards rent at the home she shares with her mom and four younger siblings. Rodriguez says she’s unsuccessfully looked for higher paying work, which she says would help her afford to go back to college and finish her degree.

[asset-images[{"caption": "", "fid": "5653", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201308/P1030566.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]During Thursday’s protest, a Subway in downtown Seattle was vandalized with the word "strike."

Customers outside the Subway and other targeted restaurants expressed some mixed feelings about the fast-food workers’ calls for a higher wage. Australian tourist Naomi Birchnoff, who walked out of a Subway where workers had just been protesting, said she’s been surprised during her travels to see how low the US minimum wage is compared to her country.

“I suppose the difference is we don’t rely on tips for our wage,” Birchnoff said. “We get paid a decent minimum wage so — you get about $20 an hour. I’d be all for Subway workers getting paid a lot more to get by.”

Birchnoff added that she might not have bought a sandwich at Subway if she’d known about the wage issues — and if she hadn’t been running to catch a train.

Australia has the highest minimum wage in the world at nearly $16.88 — that’s more than double the US minimum wage of $7.25. In Washington state, the minimum wage of $9.19 an hour is the highest in the country.

Outside a Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery in downtown Seattle, customer Brent Hages of Woodinville said it’s not a clear-cut issue for him. “I see two sides to every coin,” Hages said. “On one hand I can appreciate wanting a living wage and being able to fully pay your bills with what you earn. But on the other hand it is difficult – I know many people who own small businesses and they struggle. If they had to pay their employees $15 an hour, their business would go under.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "", "fid": "5654", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201308/P1030567.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]Garrett McMahon, 22, tried to convince his sister Cambria McMahon, 19, to join the strike. Cambria said she supports the strike but chose to stay on the job at Specialty’s in downtown Seattle. Her manager declined an interview with KUOW, but said he “didn’t frown on the protest.” The manager later looked on with amusement as Cambria brought a platter of sandwiches to the protesters.

Garrett McMahon, who walked off his job earlier at Specialty’s in Seattle’s Columbia Tower, said he finds it tough to afford rent and the cost of living in Seattle on wages of $10 an hour.

A similar fast-food workers' strike in Seattle in May prompted a Seattle City Council hearing about low-wage jobs, and the minimum wage has also become a topic of debate in the city's mayoral race.

Year started with KUOW: 2006