Home care workers rally on Front Street in downtown San Diego to call for a raise in minimum wage to $15. Photo by Chris Stone

Updated at 5:40 p.m. Nov. 10, 2015

About 400 people rallied at San Diego City Hall on Tuesday in support of fast-food, home care workers, janitors and others employed in low-wage industries seeking $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Workers and union activists held a series of protests in Southern California and across the country as part of a continuing campaign called #FightFor15.

In San Diego, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and San Diego Councilman David Alvarez addressed the City Hall rally. State Sen. Marty Block, who will be challenged for re-election by fellow Democrat Atkins, was a part of the crowd as well. Council member Myrtle Cole representing District 4 spoke to home care workers on Front Street.

A 3 p.m. demonstration began at San Diego City College and wound through downtown streets before ending at City Hall. The local protests were organized by the Service Employees International Union.

Shouting “What do we want? 15. When do we want it? Now,” “This is what democracy looks like,” and “I believe that we will win,” demonstrators marched down streets cleared by police escorts.

Workers with “Justice for Janitors” signs attended the afternoon rally at San Diego City Hall. Photo by Chris Stone

“Income inequality in this country keeps growing,” said Gilda Valdez of the SEIU. “We have to start closing the gap.”

According to organizers, similar rallies were to be held across California and in other states, including Ohio, Florida and Virginia, as part of a nationwide call for $15-an-hour wages and union rights. Union officials say more than 60 million Americans, including 3.2 million Californians, are paid less than $15 an hour.

San Diegans will be able to vote on a minimum wage increase next year. The city and county of Los Angeles have both approved laws raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. The statewide minimum wage is $9 an hour but is set to increase to $10 an hour in January.

Some participants in an early-morning rally in Los Angeles said they were demonstrating to press for $15-an-hour wages for all low-wage Californians even though they, themselves, are already scheduled to get it.

Organizers behind Tuesday’s rallies are backing a proposed statewide initiative they hope to get on the November 2016 ballot that would raise the California minimum wage to $15 by 2020 and guarantee full-time workers receive at least six paid sick days per year. A separate proposed statewide initiative would raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2021.

Opponents of the wage increases, including many business groups, have argued that the raises will force companies to lay off workers or boost the prices of goods and services to meet the increased costs.

In July, McDonald’s implemented a salary policy guaranteeing that workers at company-owned restaurants are paid $1 an hour more than the prevailing minimum wage in the communities where the eateries are located. The policy also enables workers to accrue paid time off after one year of service.

Some union officials were critical of the policy, noting that it does not apply to franchise restaurants, where owners can set their own salaries. Only about 10 percent of McDonald’s restaurants are company-owned.

City News Service contributed to this article.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.