Pedestrians pass a McDonald's Corp. restaurant on 42nd Street in Times Square in New York, N.Y., U.S., on Saturday, October 20, 2013. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

New York - McDonald’s, Wendy’s and other fast food restaurants are expected to be targeted with acts of civil disobedience that could lead to arrests tomorrow as labour organisers escalate their campaign to unionise the industry’s workers.

Kendall Fells, a director for Fast Food Forward, said workers in dozens of cities were trained to peacefully engage in civil disobedience ahead of this week’s planned protests.

Fells declined to say what exactly was in store for the protests in about 150 US cities.

But workers involved in the movement recently cited sit-ins as an example of strategies they could use to intensify their push for higher pay and unionisation. Past protests have targeted a couple of restaurants in each city for a limited time, in many cases posing little disruption to operations.

A spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, which has been spearheading the protests, said home health-care aides would join the actions in some locations.

The “Fight for $15” campaign has gained national attention at a time when growing income disparities have become a hot political issue. President Barack Obama renewed his push for Congress to raise the minimum wage at a Labor Day appearance in Milwaukee.

Many fast food workers do not make much more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 (R77) an hour. That equates to about $15 000 a year for 40 hours a week. Workers are often subject to unpredictable schedules and do not know how many hours they will be given from week to week, because restaurants are careful to avoid paying overtime.

The campaign was designed to bring attention to such hardships, which few customers thought about, said Catherine Fisk, a professor of labour law at the University of California in Irvine. She said that could help “change the mindset” about fast food jobs, which have historically been seen as difficult to unionise.

The goal was to persuade workers and customers that “it doesn’t have to be this way”, she said. “This is about getting attention to the issue.”

Fisk noted that mining and manufacturing jobs were also once considered low-wage jobs with dim prospects. That changed in the 1930s after legal protections for unionising and actions by fed-up workers helped transform the jobs into more middle class professions.

The National Restaurant Association said the protests were attempts by unions “to boost their dwindling membership”.

So far, the campaign and a similar effort on behalf of Walmart workers have been effectively handled by BerlinRosen, a public relations firm known for its political work. Since the protests began in late 2012, organisers have kept the issue in the spotlight by switching their tactics every few months.

They trumpeted the spread of protests around the country, although turnout has been fairly minimal in some places. Organisers are also pushing to bring attention to the issue of “wage theft”, such as the denial of overtime pay and rest breaks. – Sapa-AP