In the aftermath of the recession, hundreds of workers in low-wage industries have tried to call attention to how difficult it is to survive on the minimum wage. Thursday might have been their biggest effort yet. Fast-food workers in an estimated 60 cities protested outside 1,000 stores, turning out at the crack of dawn to call for union representation and a wage of $15 an hour.

Organizers of the effort, bankrolled largely by the SEIU and promoted by a slew of community groups, said it was the largest protest ever to hit the fast-food industry.

"The economy is doing poorly. Everything is expensive. With high taxes, we're not going to be able to pay rent," said Domino's worker Francisco Zuniga, 34, who brought his 3-year old son, David, to a Hollywood protest. The South Los Angeles resident said he can't support his family on $8 hourly pay from his pizza-making, order-taking and delivery job at Domino's. His bosses won't give him full-time hours because of looming healthcare law changes — "they don't want to pay for the insurance," he said. His rent is $850 a month, utilities are $100 and other costs spring up unexpectedly.

Teenagers used to dominate fast-food jobs. Now, many older workers, out of a job because of the stagnant economy, have gravitated toward the industry. They're ripe for organizing because they've seen the economy improve around them while their pay has remained the same and they continue to work without benefits.