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Rep.: I'd pay more for fast food so workers could feed their families

Fast food workers in several states kicked off demonstrations on Monday, demanding jobs that pay $15 an hour and give them the right to organize.

Fast food workers in several states kicked off demonstrations on Monday, demanding jobs that pay $15 an hour and give them the right to organize.

Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, joined one of the demonstrations at a Wendy's franchise in New York City, and he joined Morning Joe Tuesday to discuss why this cause is important for him and for the country's low-wage workers

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, an amount Ellison says leaves many fast food employees relying on food stamps, public housing, and medical subsidies.

Earlier this year during his State of the Union, President Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.

"Low-wage workers all across this country are deciding they’ve got to have a better reality for their families," Ellison told Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

Workers are set to hold strikes in cities including St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee, as well as Flint, Mich. and Kansas City, Mo.

Ellison and the Congressional Progressive Caucus have pushed for wage increases in the past. msnbc's Ned Resnikoff notes that in 2011, the caucus launched the "Speak Out for Good Jobs Now" tour, and that Rep. Ellison also attempted to boost state and local job creation by re-introducing the Put America to Work Act. In March of 2013, Ellison also co-sponsored the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.

Brzezinski wondered about the profits of fast food companies and why employees couldn't be paid a higher wage.

As an example, Ellison pointed to the compensation earned by Wendy's CEO and Chief Executive, Emil Brolick, who earned $4.6M in 2011, according to MarketWatch. McDonald's former CEO Jim Skinner also took home a healthy salary in 2012 before retiring.

"They are doing fabulously well," Ellison said.

Advertising executive Donny Deutsch pointed to a new study by Arnobio Morelix, a research assistant at the University of Kansas, who found that McDonald's could pay its workers $15 an hour if it increased the price of its Big Mac by 68 cents ($3.99 to $4.67) and increased its Dollar Menu items by 17 cents.

"I would pay $0.17 for somebody to be able to feed their family," Ellison stated.

And it's not just teens who are working restaurant and fast-food jobs, only 16% of fast food jobs go to teens, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ellison continued: "The fast food struggle is a small part of a larger thing…it has to do with the right to collective bargaining; it has to do with offshoring jobs the way we have been…it has to do with investing in our nation’s infrastructure to put people back to work…it is a re-commitment to the American dream. I believe at the end of the day we are adrift and our middle class is hollowing out. So many people are living in their parents’ homes—living in their basements—when they used to be buying houses."

"This is unsustainable, and it’s taking our country in the wrong direction," Brzezinski added before asking Ellison if there were protests she could take part in.