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Local protesters strike fast-food places, demand higher minimum wage

| Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 7:03 a.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Minimum wage workers and protesters participate in a protest Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in front of the Market Square Dunkin' Donuts.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Minimum wage workers and protesters fill the Stanwix Street McDonald's on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, calling for a living wage.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Minimum wage workers and protesters participate in a protest Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in front of the Market Square Dunkin' Donuts.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Minimum wage workers and protesters participate in a protest Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in front of the Stanwix Street McDonald's.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Police were on hand as about 50 people gathered Thursday December 5, 2013 during a lunch-time protest of several North Side fast food restaurants.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Erin Kramer from One Pittsburgh rallys the crowd on Thursday, December 5, 2013, during a lunchtime protest of several North Side fast-food restaurants. Demonstrators across the nation were pushing for minimum wage to be raised to $15.

Onjilea Turner joined about 20 fellow fast-food workers outside the North Side McDonald's where she works to urge her bosses to more than double her pay.

“Every day is struggle when you make $7.25,” said Turner, 19, of McKees Rocks. “I want $15 an hour. I want to make a difference.”

Fast-food employees, labor union members and worker advocates in Western Pennsylvania protested on Thursday, demanding an increase in the minimum wage. They joined walkouts, strikes and similar protests among thousands of minimum-wage workers in cities nationwide.

President Obama has said he would support a $10.10 minimum wage. He told a crowd on Wednesday in Washington that the increase would raise incomes for low-wage workers and boost short-term economic growth.

Small-business experts, however, contend an increase in the minimum wage could drive down the economy and hurt the workers seeking help.

Most fast-food restaurants operate as “mom-and-pop” small businesses with little financial support from corporate brands, said Marilyn Landis, president and CEO of Basic Business Concepts Inc., a consulting firm in the North Side. The businesses hire low-skill, young employees prone to turnover and depend on low wages to stay in business.

An increased minimum wage would put pressure on businesses operating on a thin margin and could cut the number of jobs available, Landis said.

“It will close businesses, there is no question,” Landis said. “The people who need the job the most are the ones who will find it more difficult to be hired.”

Anthony Imbrogino, 35, of West Mifflin finished eating a McDonald's lunch inside his van as the protesters wrapped up their demonstration at the Allegheny Avenue business. He laughed at the idea of a $15 wage for McDonald's employees — who he said messed up his lunch order.

“There's no way,” he said. “They're going to jack up the price of food so high it will be like a sit-down restaurant.”

Marcus Scott Jr., 27, of the North Side said large fast-food corporations have enough money to give employees a wage bump. He makes $7.25 an hour at the Market Square Dunkin' Donuts in Downtown and stood outside the restaurant on Thursday morning to protest. At noon, he joined about 50 protesters on Allegheny Avenue between Wendy's and McDonald's on the North Shore.

The protesters, whom police described as peaceful, chanted “No justice, no beef!” and held signs reading “Fight for $15.” Some signs had photos of McDonald's and Wendy's executives and listed their hourly wages, between $2,000 and $6,000.

“With the wages that they make, they can give us all raises,” Scott said, adding that he can't buy food or baby formula for his children without government assistance.

Management at the North Shore Wendy's and McDonald's declined to comment.

Ashley Miller works at Graybar, an industrial supply distributor on the North Shore, and stopped at Wendy's for a salad at lunchtime. She called the protests “ridiculous” and said the workers should try to better themselves, rather than rely on fast-food as a career.

At Duquesne University, adjunct faculty members protested low wages and urged the college administration to recognize their union. The part-time instructors, who make up about 60 percent of Duquesne's McAnulty College, voted to join an arm of the United Steelworkers union in September 2012. The administration won't recognize their bargaining unit.

Other union employees joined the protests elsewhere in Western Pennsylvania.

At the McDonald's on Morgantown Street in Uniontown, protesters paraded around the dining area before being asked to leave the restaurant.

Rich Pechatsko of United Mine Workers Local 2300 said he and several other union representatives turned out at the union's request.

“I'm in support of anyone who protests any corporation that tries to get fat on the working backs of the people of this country,” Pechatsko said.

Staff writer Liz Zemba contributed to this report. Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or

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