Thousands of fast-food and low-paid workers in Houston, Texas, staged a walkout on Thursday demanding US$15 per hour and union rights, as GOP candidates prepared to debate in the city.
The strike, including pickets and a march, will culminate in a rally outside the Republican debate on the campus of the University of Houston.
Cooks and cashiers stood alongside hundreds of home care workers, and janitors, under the "Fight for $15" banner, calling for better working conditions including decent pay and immigration reform.
Some 5.4 million Texans, or 48 percent, are paid less than US$15 per hour. Across the country, that number is 64 million.
The strike echoes many others across the country timed to coincide with presidential primaries to urge politicians to stand by workers.
The workers taking part in the industrial action on Thursday aim to draw the attention of the Republican candidates to their situation. So far, none of them have pledged to raise the minimum wage to US$15, the amount that protesters say is a living wage.
Only Democrat candidate Bernie Sanders has supported the campaign.
“I spend all day in the kitchen at Burger King, but when I come home at night I have to rely on friends or family for help because I can’t afford my own dinner,” said Janice Talton, 47, a Houston Burger King worker who is paid US$8.00 an hour.
“I’ve always worried more about finding a place to sleep or feeding my children than I have about politics, but this year that’s changing. By going on strike, fast-food workers have proven that we can win real change, and in November, I’ll be going to the polls to support whoever will stand with us in our fight for US$15 and union rights,” said Talton.
Janice Talton, a Burger King worker in Houston wrote in CNBC that she was going to walk out of her job hours before the debate, as she was fed up with not having enough time to read about the candidates.
“It's a big step for me to take, but I've learned that the only way things will change is if I speak out,” she wrote.
A recent poll of workers paid less than US$15 per hour commissioned by the National Employment Law Project showed that 69 percent of unregistered voters would register to vote if there were a candidate who supported US$15/hour and unions.
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