OAKLAND (CBS SF) – Fast-food workers in Oakland and throughout the East Bay walked off the job Thursday to participate in protests as part of a nationwide movement aimed at boosting their pay and benefits, an organizer said.

Beth Trimarco, of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, said protests are taking place at fast-food restaurants in about 100 cities across the country Thursday.

Trimarco said about 200 people participated in what she called “a very spirited demonstration” at the McDonald’s restaurant at 14th and Jackson streets in Oakland during the lunch hour Thursday.

She said protesters marched into the restaurant and “shut it down” for about half an hour while workers spoke about “how they are struggling to put food on the table, how they can barely survive and how they must choose between paying for food, rent or health care.”

Trimarco said hundreds of people are expected to participate in a second protest Thursday afternoon.

In the East Bay, workers are protesting from Richmond in the north to Fremont in the south, Trimarco said.

She said fast-food companies only pay their workers an average of $8.94 an hour, and that many workers are forced to use public assistance to pay for food.

She said the protesters are asking that workers be paid at least $15 an hour and be given the right to form a union without retaliation.

Trimarco said dozens of organizations are helping coordinate the fast-food worker protests across the country. She said the movement began with an action in New York City at this time last year.

Jot Condie, the president and chief executive of the California Restaurant Association, said in a statement, “As national labor organizers ramp up their assault against the restaurant industry today, it’s important to recognize that the protestors outside of restaurants are far more likely to be labor activists and paid demonstrators than actual restaurant workers.”

Condie said, “Restaurants of all kinds provide millions of young Californians with their first job and the opportunity to acquire important skills they’ll take with them the rest of their lives.”

He said, “The weakened economy has created an environment where more people are looking to our industry for short-term and long-term work opportunities and fortunately restaurants have been able to provide thousands of new jobs.

“To propose doubling the minimum wage ignores the economics of running restaurants, which operate on razor-thin profit margins that average from 1 percent to 5 percent. Such an increase would make it impossible for the industry to continue its role as a major job-creator,” Condie said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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