Updated 04/14/16 – 2:03 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of low-wage workers staged protest marches Thursday in Chicago to fight for a $15 minimum wage.

The rallies started around dawn, and were scheduled to continue through Thursday night, with many workers planning to walk off the job.

At 7 a.m., about 100 activists gathered at the McDonald’s at 79th Street and Yates Boulevard to protest the fast food chain’s minimum pay scale for beginning employees.

Protesters were joined by parents, students, and teachers from the Chicago Teachers Union to march from McDonald’s to a nearby school and child care center.

CTU recording secretary Michael Brunson said teachers stand in solidarity with fast food workers and others seeking a higher minimum wage.

“Fifty-one percent of fast food workers must use public assistance. This costs taxpayers $368 million a year,” he said.

Around 1 p.m. Thursday, a large group of Fight for $15 activists gathered at the intersection of Lake Shore Drive and Sheridan Road, blocking traffic on northbound Lake Shore Drive. Those protesters later marched north on Sheridan to Thorndale Avenue, before boarding five chartered buses, to head downtown for another rally.

As part of their fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, activists pointed to a recent study that found public assistance to families of fast food workers in the U.S. costs taxpayers $7 billion a year, including $368 million in Illinois. They said that money should go to education and child care.

McDonald’s worker Angel Mitchell said minimum wage jobs cost everyone.

“This is our message today: McJobs are costing us all. Every person that is employed at a McJob; whether it’s child care, home care, CPS, Chicago Public Schools, even adjunct professors at universities, that is a McJob where you don’t have benefits. You’re still living in poverty, and you go to work every single day making billion-dollar corporations rich. We’re not here to be billionaires. We know that for the lower class and the poverty class, that’s a stroke of luck. However, we are here to get $15 and union rights for all people, all work industries that have a McJob,” she said.

Ted Dabrowski, of the Illinois Policy Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank, said he does not believe raising the minimum wage would help those who are trying to make ends meet.

“By raising the minimum wage so high, it’s going to keep even more of those people out of the workforce, because businesses won’t be able to hire them; or, in many cases, those people would be let go,” he said.

Dabrowski also believes companies like McDonald’s would turn to automation to save on hiring costs.

For the record, Dabrowski said the Illinois Policy Institute does not believe government should be in the business of setting a minimum wage.

“The market should determine that, and that way perhaps more people would be hired, more people will have jobs,” he said.

Chicago already has taken steps to gradually increase its minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019, but Fight for $15 activists have said that’s not good enough.

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