Police arrested dozens of protesters in dozens of cities across the country Thursday — including New Orleans — in workers’ latest attempt to escalate efforts to get McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food companies to pay employees at least $15 an hour.
The protests, which were planned by labor organizers for about 150 cities nationwide throughout Thursday, are part of a campaign called “Fight for $15.”
Since efforts began in late 2012, organizers have switched their tactics every few months to bring attention to the protests, which have attracted spotty crowds. Organizers previously said they planned to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience on Thursday, which they predicted might lead to arrests.
In New Orleans, some workers walked off their jobs at McDonald’s and Burger King, according to a news release from Service Employees International Union media contact Mariah Quinn. The release also said two workers and a community supporter were arrested at a civil disobedience action at a Burger King on South Carrollton Avenue.
New Orleans police confirmed the arrests for disturbing the peace.
In New York, 19 people were arrested Thursday in blocking traffic, with at least three people wearing McDonald’s uniforms taken away by police officers after standing in the middle of a busy street near Times Square. About two dozen protesters were detained in Detroit after they wouldn’t move out of a street near a McDonald’s restaurant. Others were apprehended by police in Chicago, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami and Denver.
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 poor and the rich 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.
The protests have not resulted in workers getting higher wages, but they have gotten media coverage. In Chicago, for instance, reporters observed supporters arriving on buses and sitting on a street between a McDonald’s and Burger King, chanting: “We shall not be moved.”
“The impact is in bringing it into the public attention,” said Chris Rhomberg, an associate professor of sociology at Fordham University in New York.
President Barack Obama has taken notice too. He mentioned the campaign at a Labor Day appearance in Milwaukee. “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.
Union organizers expected thousands to show up at Thursday’s protests around the country. Previously, turnout has been fairly minimal in many places. In an effort to get more people involved, organizers asked other service workers to join protests and added more cities than they previously had.