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Minimum wage fight hits the streets of 160 U.S. cities Thursday

By Mark Guarino

Dec 4 (Reuters) - Workers in the fast-food, home care and airline industries are staging protests and strikes throughout the United States on Thursday to advocate for a $15 minimum wage and other labor rights.

The protests are under a banner organization called "Fight for 15" and organizers say they expect Thursday's actions will represent the most expansive to date, increasing to a planned 160 cities from 150 in a similar nationwide protest in early September.

There is also a greater diversity of labor groups participating. Workers are expected to stage strikes and walkouts at both fast-food restaurants like McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's, and major airports like John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

The union-backed actions are part of an ongoing push since 2012 for an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour.

Advocates of higher hourly pay say that because wages have not increased since 2009, full-time workers are being kept below the poverty threshold for a family of four. Opponents say the protests are tainted because they involved major labor organizations.

Fast-food chains say their locations are largely owned by independent operators who are solely responsible for pay rates of employees.

The protests will include airport workers such as baggage handlers, skycaps, wheelchair attendants and aircraft cleaners protesting in nine cities, as well as home care workers who are expected to protest in about 20 cities, organizers said.

The protests will include several new cities, including Jackson, Mississippi; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Buffalo, New York, organizers said.

(Reporting by Mark Guarino in Chicago; Editing by Bernard Orr)