On Thursday, fast food and home healthcare workers across the country walked away from their jobs and joined the “Fight for $15,” an SEIU-backed movement demanding a $15 minimum wage and unabridged union rights for fast food workers.
In the past, organizers and participants have largely avoided trouble with law enforcement. This time, however, protesters came armed with a mandate from on high to engage in civil disobedience to the point of arrest.
In Detroit, a crowd of about 200 protesters locked arms across the street fronting a local McDonald’s, causing a traffic backup and a shortage of officers available for school patrol:
“The protesters who were sitting on Mack Avenue and refusing to move had a bit of a negotiating session between the police department and the organizers — that didn’t go anywhere,” Szumanski said. “So, police have now swooped in and what they have done is arrested at least 20, maybe 30 people. They’re leading them away in handcuffs to the back of the squad cars.”
Detroit Assistance Police Chief Steve Dolunt said there was no problem with what was otherwise a peaceful demonstration, “however, you can’t block the roadway. There are people who do have jobs that have to get to work, kids that have to get to school.”
Dolunt said the situation absolutely left police in a lurch.
“Because of this, we had to pull officers away from school patrol to do this and it exacerbated the situation,” he said.
In Detroit, police were forced to put 30 people total in handcuffs. 24 of those people were ticketed for disorderly conduct and released, but 6 remained in custody due to outstanding warrants. In New York, however, 24 people had been arrested for disorderly conduct and blocking traffic before rush hour had even come to a close.
Earlier this month, the NLRB handed union organizers a promising victory when the Board held that McDonald’s corporation is a “joint employer” of workers at its almost 3000 franchises. If this ruling is upheld in court (and restauranteurs do plan on fighting the ruling “in the appropriate forum,”) union organizers will be able to conduct a mass unionization of all McDonald’s employees without having to go franchise to franchise.
These protests, which started in November of 2012, haven’t caused companies to raise their wages, but they have gotten union organizers an inordinate amount of attention—including that of President Obama:
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.
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 organizers 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.
Barack Obama isn’t the only lawmaker getting involved. Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore was arrested after blocking traffic outside of a Milwaukee McDonald’s.
NBC News has video of one arrest that took place outside of the Times Square McDonald’s:DONATE
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