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Rochester protesters join national call for higher minimum wage

by Jane Flasch

Rochester, N.Y. -- As patrons lined up at the drive thru over lunch hour, a small group of protesters gathered outside the McDonalds on Monroe Avenue calling for a higher minimum wage.

"These people live here, they work here, they send their kids to school here," said retired professor Jim Bearden who taught at SUNY Geneseo for 33 years.

Before that, Bearden says he labored with his hands, taught by his father. He says a fair wage ensured that at the end of the day he returned home tired, but ready to do it all again the next day.

"I'm out here supporting the people who I think need the same kind of benefits that I enjoyed all my life," he said. "I want my children and their children to live in a society that cares about people."

Labor unions and worker advocacy groups want to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. President Obama said he would back $10.10/hour.

In other cities fast food workers are on strike. Protests were planned in 100 locations with a goal to disrupt restaurant operations.

In Rochester, where there are no striking workers, that did not happen. In fact not one of the protestors said they were fast food employees. The group of about 20 did not appear to change the plans of patrons driving into the parking lot.

Eloise Johnson who once worked as a cashier says there is a reason people with well-paying jobs should care about this issue. "They could lose their jobs and have to work for minimum wage. This could happen to anyone in America these days," she said.

And consider this: teenagers looking for spending money make up just 40 percent of front line fast food workers.

Half of the employees working more than 40 hours a week need public assistance to make ends meet.

"When workers at McDonalds qualify for food stamps and Medicaid that means that we're giving billions of dollars to that corporation for refusing to pay living wages," said protester Colin O'Malley.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D) says taxpayers provide $7 billion dollars of public assistance to fast food workers every year, while at the same time the top seven fast food corporations earned &.4 billion in profits.

"The fast food industry is making millions and millions in profit on poverty wages and allowing everyday folks to foot the bill for the (fallout) of poverty wages," said O'Malley.

In a statement McDonalds says it teaches transferable business skills to employees and offers them advancement and competitive pay.

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Washington Times