NEW YORK -- Hundreds of low-wage workers in Brooklyn kicked off a national day of protest Wednesday as they demanded pay of $15 an hour. The New York demonstrators were among tens of thousands expected to take to the streets in cities across the country to rally for better salaries and benefits in what organizers said would be the biggest protest of its kind to date.
"What do we want? $15! When do we want it? Now!" the workers -- about 300 strong -- chanted along Flatbush Avenue.
One protester, April Rodriguez, a construction worker and single mother with three children, said she works from 7 am to 9 pm and still struggles to pay her bills.
"I hope the workers get what they need to survive because the cost of everything keeps going up but the wages stay down," Rodriguez said.
The movement for $15 an hour started more than two years ago with fast-food workers in New York and a handful of other cities.
Now, a broad coalition of employees from the retail industry to home care aides and adjunct university professors have joined the protests.
Jacqueline Taylor was an adjunct professor at New York institute of Technology, where she taught courses in art, before she was laid off.
"I feel that corporations and institutions are taking in huge profits at the expense of low wage workers," she said. "It's a disgrace."
The demonstrations are being organized by a group called Fight for $15, which is backed by community- and faith-based groups, as well as labor unions such as Service Employees International Union.
"Working people are going to keep speaking out in the streets, in their communities, and at the ballot box until we raise wages, strengthen the economy, and build a democracy that works for all families," said SEIU president Mary Kay Henry.
Organizers say students at more than 100 universities nationwide plan to participate in Wednesday's demonstrations. They also expect fast food workers and others to protest in Italy, Brazil and Japan, among other international locations.
Protests and rallies are being planned in as many as 200 cities, including Albany, NY; Asheville, NC; Greenville, MS; Montgomery, Ala.; and San Jose, Calif., according to Fight for $15.
In New York City, demonstrators planned to take to the streets in Times Square and Columbus Circle.
All told, organizers expect 15,000 workers, students and activists to take part in the various protests in New York City.
The protests are taking place just weeks after McDonald's announced a pay hike for workers, but that increase is only taking effect at the McDonald's-owned restaurants and not the franchises that employ 90% of the company's workers.
McDonald's said in a statement that it respects "people's right to peacefully protest." The company reiterated that it recently raised wages for workers at company-owned restaurants and continues to "look at opportunities that will make a difference for employees.
In Richmond, demonstrators held signs and chanted outside the McDonald's near Boulevard in Richmond Wednesday morning. A second demonstration was scheduled Wednesday evening in Monroe Park.