UPDATED 12:15 p.m. Monday with detail from protest.
More than 100 people were protesting outside a McDonald's in St. Louis at lunchtime Monday, the first in a series of wildcat strikes and walkouts that are planned to ripple across the region over the next two days.
The protests are part of a national campaign to push for higher wages for fast-food workers and are expected to hit dozens of stores between now and the end of the day Tuesday, culminating in a rally downtown in Kiener Plaza. Workers are advocating for wages of up to $15 per hour, a hike to Missouri's $7.35 per hour minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. Organizers say there could be walkouts at as many as 50 stores.
In an interview Monday morning, one of the strikers, 19-year-old Doneshia Babbitt, said she hopes the protests will draw attention to the challenges of making ends meet on jobs that pay less than $8 an hour with no benefits. The restaurant is at 4420 South Broadway in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
"I hope this helps people understand, I hope they get the picture," said Babbitt, who'll be a senior at Jennings High School in the fall, along with her 20-year-old sister, helps support three younger siblings on a job at McDonald's. "A lot of people working these jobs really need the money."
The fast-food protests are being organized by local labor and church groups and are taking place in six other cities this week as well. Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from the Atlanta area, flew in to lend his support as well and said federal legislation is needed to reform an industry that profits handsomely off the backs of low-wage workers.
"It's obscene," he said, pointing to profits and executive pay at big fast-food companies. "And it's not the kind of system that's working for people."
A spokeswoman for McDonald's referred questions to the National Restaurant Association, which had no immediate comment Monday afternoon.
The push is part of a broader national campaign for higher wages and better working conditions for fast-food workers. Similar protests are planned this week in at least six other cities, including Chicago and Kansas City.