Hundreds arrested at US protests over fast-food pay
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Police handcuffed some 465 protesters who blocked traffic in cities across the United States on Thursday in their latest attempt to get McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food chains to pay employees at least $15 an hour.
The protests, which are the latest in a series of ongoing actions aimed at raising fast-food workers’ wages, were planned by labour organisers in about 150 cities nationwide.
In New York’s Times Square some 400 protesters blocked streets during morning rush hour, hoisting placards reading “Stick together for $15 and union rights”. Some held a sit-in at a McDonald’s restaurant, prompting 19 arrests for disorderly conduct. Three of those arrested were wearing McDonald’s uniforms.
Sit-ins were also held in other cities, and organisers said 465 arrests were made among protesters from Chicago, Detroit, Little Rock, Arkansas, Kansas City, Houston and Nashville.
About two dozen protesters were detained in Detroit after they wouldn’t move out of a street near a McDonald’s restaurant.
In Los Angeles, protesters confronted managers inside two McDonald’s restaurants. In Milwaukee, Democratic US Congresswoman Gwen Moore was taken away in handcuffs by police for blocking traffic at a McDonald’s.
Footage uploaded to Instagram shows arrested protesters in Manhattan, New York, being led away by police. Posted by @la_davis.
Tyree Johnson was among those hauled away in Chicago. Johnson earns $8.45 an hour after working at a Chicago McDonald’s for more than two decades. “I’ve been there 22 years and I can’t help my family,” he told AP.
McDonald’s worker Latoya Walker, who lives in a homeless shelter in Queens, New York, and makes $8 per hour, joined Thursday’s march for her five young children.
“With $15, I’d be able to save up enough to rent a home for my kids,” Walker told Reuters.
Obama backs workers
The “Fight for $15” campaign, which is backed financially by the Service Employees International Union and others, comes at a time when the wage gap between the rich and poor has become a hot political issue. Many fast-food workers do not make much more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which adds up to about $15,000 a year for 40 hours a week.
Since the efforts began in late 2012, organisers have switched up their tactics every few months to bring attention to the protests.
The protests have yet to bring higher wages, but they are gaining momentum. Organisers said Thursday’s actions were the biggest to date.
President Barack Obama has taken notice too. He mentioned the campaign at a Labor Day appearance in Wisconsin. “If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union,” Obama said, as he pushed Congress to raise the minimum wage.
The National Restaurant Association said in a statement that the protests are an attempt by unions to “boost their dwindling membership”. The industry lobbying group said it hopes organisers will be respectful to customers and workers during the protests. McDonald’s, the world’s largest burger chain, said in a statement that there were no service disruptions at its restaurants on Thursday.
US fast-food restaurants this year are expected to make profits of $7.2 billion on revenue of $198.9 billion, according to research firm IBISWorld. Most of their US restaurants are owned by franchisees, who set their own wages and say that raising the hourly wage will hurt their businesses.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)