"We're not making enough money," said Neka Hunter, 30, who did not report to work Thursday, one of three on strike from a Burger King on Dupont Highway in New Castle.
Her husband, Ben Hunter, 42, also on strike, cooks at the Burger King on Concord Pike. Each earns $7.25 an hour.
They and a daughter, 9, share a one-bedroom apartment in Wilmington. They have to juggle, letting some bills pile up.
Neka Hunter said she was paying off loans for training as a medical assistant. "I've been trying to get a job," she said. "Nobody is hiring."
Similar protests organized by unions and community groups over the last several months have brought considerable attention to a staple of the fast-food industry - the "McJobs" known for their low pay and limited prospects. But it is unclear what impact, if any, they will have on business.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been providing tactical help to workers.
In Wilmington, SEIU joined with the Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement, Americans for Democratic Action, and Occupy Delaware.
The Wilmington job action was the closest the nationwide strike came to Philadelphia. Activists working with low-wage workers speculate that the city's school crisis and the push for higher wages for skycaps and wheelchair attendants at the Philadelphia International Airport are the priorities for organizers.
During the job action in Wilmington, only one customer walked in. He came out, he said, with a free cup of coffee, courtesy of the management.
Declining to give his name, he scoffed at strikers' efforts to nearly double their hourly pay. "The consequence will be less employment and the cost of food is going to go sky high," he said. "My coffee is going to cost $2, and I won't buy it."
In an e-mail, Burger King Corp. wrote that its restaurants "have provided an entry point into the workforce for millions of Americans," but wage decisions are up to franchise owners, such as Odyssey Foods of New Jersey Inc., the Bridgewater company that owns the Burger King on Concord Pike.
A message left for Odyssey president Jeffrey Lichtman went unanswered.
Burger King cook Ben Hunter disagrees that the fast-food industry primarily employs teenagers.
Of the approximately 25 people at the Concord Pike Burger King, he said, about seven are teenagers. Most employees have families to support.
Burger King employee Ashley Wright, 27, a mother of three boys, was running a load of dishes when she left to join pickets on Concord Pike.
Earning $7.25 an hour, she said she had not received a raise since she started in June 2010. Her last pay check, earned over two weeks, was $337. "I'm trying to do something for my boys," she said.
Contact Jane Von Bergen at firstname.lastname@example.org, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.inquirer.com/jobbing
This article contains information from the Associated Press.