KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Restaurant workers took to the streets while restaurant industry leaders took to op-ed pages as debate over the minimum wage continued.

A coalition of activist groups, clergy and unions supported a walkout of foodservice and retail employees in 50 cities on Aug. 29. Employees staged walkouts at major national fast-food restaurants, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC. A McDonald's restaurant in Southfield, Mich. was forced to close after its employees walked out, according to local news reports. More than 200 protesters gathered outside the restaurant.

The workers are calling for wages of $15 per hour and the opportunity to form unions without retaliation or intimidation by management. The industry has argued that raising wages would kill jobs in the restaurant industry.

National Restaurant Association research shows most restaurant employees earn more than the minimum wage, and only 5 percent of restaurant employees earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Representatives of the industry argue that restaurants provide workers with experience that are stepping stones to opportunities for upward mobility.

Phil Hickey, NRA chairman, who began working in restaurants as a teenager, published an op-ed in the Aug. 29Wall Street Journaltitled “McWages Can Be the Path to the Middle Class.” Hickey rose through the restaurant ranks and he now owns nine restaurants. He wrote:

“This experience is not uncommon,” Hickey wrote. “The first job held by nearly one in three Americans is in the restaurant industry. In addition to teaching personal responsibility, teamwork, discipline and accountability, these positions provide workers with opportunities for successful careers. Many of them—like me—advance from their entry-level, minimum-wage positions.”

“The truth is that both part-time and full-time positions make the industry a versatile career option for a variety of workers,” Hickey wrote. “From underemployed or hard-to-employ workers to college graduates, the industry provides a pathway to the middle class and often beyond.”