Fast food workers seek higher wages in Strip protest

LAS VEGAS - Fast food workers across the country walked off the job Thursday morning. Employees in more than 150 cities, including Las Vegas, are demanding higher wages and the right to unionize.

Las Vegas workers marched from the Linq to a McDonald's restaurant near Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road. The protest drew workers from other restaurants, including: Wendy's, Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell. Metro Police detained at least five people during the protest for blocking traffic.

This is the fourth such strike in Nevada in recent months, but it's the first since more than 1,300 fast food workers in Chicago authorized a resolution calling for civil disobedience to pressure restaurant chains.

The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) is spearheading the Las Vegas protest. PLAN spokesperson Laura Martin says fast food restaurant employees should be allowed to unionize and earn more than minimum wage.

"It's a poverty wage. These corporations subsidize workers by paying a poverty wage, and then Nevada taxpayers subsidize them by providing, you know, public assistance. That's just not a sustainable system," she said.

Others disagree. Geoffrey Lawrence with the Nevada Policy Research Institute says raising a fast food workers' pay to 15 dollars an hour would force businesses to cut jobs.

"In an industry like fast food, for instance, those jobs tend to be very easily mechanized," Lawrence said. "So, you bring in a machine, and they can flip the burgers and put them together, and then you don't have to pay a worker to do it," he said.

The National Restaurant Association, meanwhile, said in a statement to 8 News NOW, "This is nothing more than labor groups' attempt to boost their dwindling membership by targeting restaurant employees. We hope that labor organizers will not escalate with aggressive tactics or intimidation and will act with respect toward our customers and employees."

Fast food workers aren't the only ones seeking an increase in wages.

Nevada State Senator Richard "Tick" Segerblom (Clark-D) is introducing a proposal in the 2015 Legislature to increase the state's minimum wage from $8.75 to $15 an hour.

The proposal is a long way from becoming a reality. Raising the minimum wage requires an amendment to the state constitution. For that to happen, the Legislature would need to pass the bill twice, then voters must approve the constitutional amendment.

Segerblom says he knows it won't be easy, but he says he's willing to compromise.

"There'll be a lot of discussions out there and just because you ask for fifteen dollars doesn't mean that you can't take something less," he said. "But, I think it's good to start out there with a high number and then see where we go."

The bill will go before the Legislature in February. If it passes in the 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions, and Nevada voters approve it in a subsequent election, the minimum wage increase would take effect by 2019.


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