Fast food workers across the country were on strike Thursday, demanding higher minimum wages.
There were no walk-outs in Minnesota, but members of the Service Employees Union held a solidarity demonstration outside of a McDonald's in Minneapolis.
Employees and activists are calling on fast food restaurants to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour so families can earn a living.
FAST FOOD STRIKES AROUND THE U.S.
tap city for local report
This is not the first call for higher minimum wages in Minnesota. Lawmakers battled over the issue during the last legislative session and union activists insist it is a cause that won't go away.
Across the country, the march is gaining both attention and sympathy -- even in states without their own demonstrations. In Minnesota, union workers and a Lutheran pastor joined the movement in calling for employers to pay more.
"It's time in this state, and it's time in this country, to raise the minimum wage," Rev. Grant Stevensen said.
Former fast food workers told Fox 9 News even though they enjoyed the work environment and helping customers, they couldn't make enough money to survive.
Currently, the minimum wage in Minnesota for large companies is $6.15 an hour. For small companies, it's $5.25 an hour -- but both are trumped by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Even at the federal rate, a two-person family would still be making below poverty-level wages, and that's why state lawmakers are looking to raise the rate. The question is: By how much?
Last spring, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill to raise the wage to $9.50, but the Minnesota Senate only approved a hike to $7.75. In the waning hours of the session, the two chambers couldn't agree on a compromise.
It's certainly a contentious issue, and Dan McElroy, of Hospitality Minnesota, says part of the political calculus is a potential loss of jobs.
"We should be careful here," he cautioned. "Washington and Oregon have fairly high minimum wages, $9.19 an hour. They don't recognize tips as income, which is an issue -- and since they went to those high minimum wages, their number of employees per restaurant has gone down fairly dramatically, from around 19 to 14. In Washington and Oregon together, that's about 50,000 jobs."
McElroy says there is no way to predict whether the same trend could occur in Minnesota, but he said it is a possibility. In fact, one of the reasons why a higher minimum wage failed last spring is due to the threat to nursing homes. Without a higher reimbursement formula from the state to pay the higher wages, many were concerned some nursing homes may have to close.