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    Fast food workers join forces on wage demands

    Fast-food workers in Boston wore stickers as part of the labor campaign  that will be addressed at the convention.
    Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe
    Fast-food workers in Boston wore stickers as part of the labor campaign that will be addressed at the convention.

    CHICAGO — Fast-food workers say they’re prepared to escalate their campaign for higher wages and union representation, starting with a national convention where more than 1,000 workers will discuss the future of the effort that has spread to dozens of cities in less than two years.

    About 1,300 workers are scheduled to attend sessions Friday and Saturday at an expo center in Villa Park, Ill., where they’ll be asked to do ‘‘whatever it takes’’ to win $15-an-hour wages and a union, said Kendall Fells, organizing director of the national effort and a representative of the Service Employees International Union.

    Workers from a dozen fast-food restaurants in Boston left Friday to attend the convention.


    The union has been providing financial and organizational support to the fast-food protests that began in late 2012 in New York City and have included daylong strikes and a protest outside this year’s McDonald’s Corp. shareholder meeting that resulted in more than 130 arrests.

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    ‘‘We want to talk about building leadership, power, and doing whatever it takes depending on what city they’re in and what the moment calls for,’’ said Fells, adding that the ramped-up actions will be ‘‘more high profile’’ and could include everything from civil disobedience to intensified efforts to organize workers.

    The campaign comes as President Obama and many other Democrats across the country have attempted to make a campaign issue out of their call to increase the federal and state minimum wages. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour translates to about $15,000 a year for someone working 40 hours a week, though many fast-food workers get far fewer hours. Obama and others have called for increasing it to $10.10.

    Fast-food workers say even that is not enough because most people working in the industry now are adults with children. The restaurant industry has argued that a $15 hourly wage could lead to business closings and job cuts. The Seattle City Council recently voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, phased in over several years.

    A McDonald’s spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment.


    The National Restaurant Association said Thursday that increasing wages to $15 will not solve income inequality and that the campaign was an attempt by unions to boost dwindling membership.

    ‘‘Instead of demonizing an industry that opens doors for workers of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels, the focus should be on finding better solutions to lift individuals out of poverty,’’ said Scott DeFife, the association’s executive vice president of policy and government affairs.