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Fast-food protesters cuffed at higher-pay rallies
New York • Police handcuffed dozens of protesters in cities around the country on Thursday as they blocked traffic in the latest attempt to escalate their efforts to get McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food companies to pay their 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 the protests began in late 2012, organizers have switched up 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 might lead to arrests. In the past, supporters have done things like show up at a McDonald's shareholder meeting and hold overseas protests.
The movement, 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 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.
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.
Union organizers expected thousands to show up to 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 it previously had.
Shanicka Primo, who was at a protest at McDonald's in New York, said she heard about the demonstration after organizers came to the Checkers restaurant where she works. The 20-year-old earns $8 an hour at the burger chain and said a raise to $15 per hour would help her get her own apartment. "I wouldn't have to live with my family," Primo said.
In some cities, protesters were hauled away by police for blocking streets. Police handcuffed about a dozen people who wouldn't leave in Chicago.
In New York, at least three people wearing McDonald's uniforms were taken by police officers after standing in the middle of a busy street near Times Square. Nineteen were arrested for blocking traffic.
About two dozen protesters were handcuffed in Detroit after they wouldn't move out of a street near a McDonald's restaurant. And police in Las Vegas also handcuffed some demonstrators, giving about 10 of them citations to appear in court.
Among those hauled away was Tyree Johnson. He said he 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 said.
Don Babwin in Chicago, Mike Householder in Detroit, Candice Choi in New York and John Locher in Las Vegas contributed to this report.