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Fast-Food Workers Strike for Minimum Wage Hike Ahead of Democratic Debate

Workers in Charleston, South Carolina timed their push to raise the minimum wage with the arrival of Democratic presidential candidates for the debate on Sunday.

by Atoosa Moinzadeh
Jan 17 2016, 7:00pm

Photo by Justin Lane/EPA

A group of fast-food workers in Charleston, South Carolina walked off the job early Sunday morning, going on strike and calling on presidential candidates to "come and get their vote" hours before the 2016 democratic debate in the city.

The strike, which is backed by Fight For 15, the campaign to raise the US minimum wage to $15 per hour, involves about 100 low-wage employees from the fast-food, home care, and child care industries. The group plans to demonstrate in front of the Gaillard Center in Charleston, the site of the fourth Democratic presidential debate, which begins at 9pm ET.

McDonald's employee Statria Maxwell told VICE News that at least two McDonald's workers participating in the strike. A 22-year-old former Marine, she's been working with the company for two months and in the fast-food industry for five years. Maxwell said she can barely pay her bills and support her family working two jobs at $7.25 per hour.

Related: Here's What's at Stake for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in South Carolina

"I stand for eight hours per shift, and do a little bit of everything — $7.25 isn't sufficient for all the work I do," Maxwell said. "Most Americans can't survive on that either. I want to go back to school for culinary arts, but don't make enough to save up for the cost."

Maxwell plans to vote for the first time in the presidential elections this November, and says that being a part of a national movement has been a huge motivating factor. A National Employment Law Project survey recently showed that millions of Americans earning less than $15 an hour would be more likely to vote if candidates backed higher pay and union rights.

"Just being here and seeing how many are here, it shows it's bigger than Charleston," Maxwell said. "The candidates are going to hear what we have to say, and that's empowering — the future president needs to hear the people."

Hillary Clinton, the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, supports raising the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour and pushing state and local governments to raise the rate even further. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's chief rival, has called for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour "over the next several years," and supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize.

Related: McDonald's Gives Its Shareholders $30 Billion as Its Workers Protest for $15 an Hour

The Fight For 15 movement, supported by the Service Employees International Union, has led successful efforts to raise the minimum wages in Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Earlier this week, the group worked with Italian consumer groups to file an antitrust complaint against McDonald's with the European Commission.

In November, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo used his executive authority on Tuesday to increase the wage of government workers to $15 an hour by 2018. The move does not affect the estimated 50,000 private sector workers in the state that still earn the minimum wage. Around 1.3 million workers earn the minimum wage nationally, with an additional 1.7 million earning less than the federal floor of $7.25 an hour.

Follow Atoosa Moinzadeh on Twitter: @amoinzadeh