Fast-Food Protesters Arrested as Wage Campaign Escalates

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Photographer: Mark Lennihan/ AP Photo

Protesters sit in front of a McDonald's restaurant on 42nd Street in New York's Times Square as police officers move in to begin making arrests on Sept. 4, 2014.

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Photographer: Mark Lennihan/ AP Photo

Protesters sit in front of a McDonald's restaurant on 42nd Street in New York's Times Square as police officers move in to begin making arrests on Sept. 4, 2014. Close

Protesters sit in front of a McDonald's restaurant on 42nd Street in New York's Times Square as police officers move... Read More

Photographer: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo

Police officers arrest two protesters in front of a McDonald's restaurant on 42nd Street in New York's Times Square as police officers move in to begin making arrests on Sept. 4, 2014. Close

Police officers arrest two protesters in front of a McDonald's restaurant on 42nd Street in New York's Times Square... Read More

Photographer: Craig Giammona/Bloomberg

“I’m out here trying to have a better salary to pay for college,” Christopher Espinosa, center, said. “These companies are making a lot of money -- they can afford it.” Close

“I’m out here trying to have a better salary to pay for college,” Christopher Espinosa, center, said. “These... Read More

Photographer: Leslie Patton/Bloomberg

Police arrest a protester outside a McDonald's on Chicago's south side after blocking traffic in the streets. Close

Police arrest a protester outside a McDonald's on Chicago's south side after blocking traffic in the streets.

Photographer: M. Spencer Green/AP Photo

Chicago police place Tyree Johnson in handcuffs as they remove protesters from the middle of 87th street between a McDonald’s and a Burger King on Chicago's south side on Sept. 4, 2014. Johnson, who has worked at McDonald's for 22 years and makes $8.45 per hour, was willing to be arrested as labor organizers escalate their campaign to unionize the fast food industry's workers. Close

Chicago police place Tyree Johnson in handcuffs as they remove protesters from the middle of 87th street between a... Read More

Photographer: M. Spencer Green/AP Photo

On the south side of Chicago, about 20 workers sat in the street near McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants this morning. They formed a line blocking traffic and sang, “We shall not be moved.” Close

On the south side of Chicago, about 20 workers sat in the street near McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants this... Read More

Photographer: Paul Sancya/AP Photo

Protesters clamoring for higher fast-food wages block traffic on Mack Avenue in Detroit on Sept. 4, 2014. Close

Protesters clamoring for higher fast-food wages block traffic on Mack Avenue in Detroit on Sept. 4, 2014.

Protesters clamoring for higher fast-food wages were arrested for blocking traffic during nationwide demonstrations, as labor organizers try to raise the profile of a movement that began in 2012.

At a McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) restaurant in Times Square, at least 19 people were arrested, including 14 men and five women, the New York Police Department said. Protesters were taken into custody for disorderly conduct when they blocked vehicles in front of the 42nd Street restaurant. In the afternoon, there were 15 more protesters arrested at a different McDonald’s location, NYPD Detective Cheryl Crispin said.

The arrests were a coordinated strategy to escalate the campaign, said Kendall Fells, an organizing director with Fast Food Forward in New York. Rallies demanding a $15-an-hour wage for fast-food workers were held in about 150 U.S. cities today in what may be the largest labor action since the demonstrations began almost two years ago. More than 3 million workers prepare and serve food in the U.S., and they make $9.08 an hour on average, according to government data.

“I’m out here trying to have a better salary to pay for college,” said Christopher Espinosa, a protester who works a few blocks north of Times Square and took an unpaid day off to be at the demonstration. The 19-year-old, a freshman at Berkeley College who lives in the Bronx, has worked for McDonald’s for more than a year, with his salary increasing to $8 from $7.25 in that time.

“These companies are making a lot of money -- they can afford it,” Espinosa said.

Blocking Street

On the South Side of Chicago, about 20 workers sat in the street near McDonald’s and Burger King (BKW) restaurants in the morning. They formed a line blocking traffic and sang, “We shall not be moved.” Police pulled sitting protesters up and off of the street.

In all, 19 people were detained, ticketed and released for causing a disturbance and disrupting traffic, said Jose Estrada, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department.

Corderal Love, a 24-year-old McDonald’s restaurant employee wearing a red “Fight For $15” shirt, joined hundreds of other strikers in Chicago. He said he needs higher wages to pay for public transportation and clothes for his two children.

“You can’t afford to live in Chicago when your income is only $6,000 to $7,000 a year,” he said. Love has been working at McDonald’s for about a year and a half and makes $8.25 an hour. He’s looking for a second job.

Detroit Arrests

Detroit Police Department spokesman Adam Madera said six people were arrested on outstanding warrants at a protest outside a McDonald’s on Mack Avenue. An additional 24 protesters were ticketed for disorderly conduct and released, he said.

A total of 456 fast-food demonstrators have been arrested across the country, according to strike organizers.

Heidi Barker, a spokeswoman for Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald’s, said there have been no reports of the protests disrupting service at restaurants.

“These are not ‘strikes’ but are staged demonstrations in which people are being transported to fast-food restaurants,” she said. “We have received reports that some participants are being paid, up to $500, to protest and get arrested.”

While workers are not getting paid to protest, some are receiving money for lost wages, said Fells.

“It’s an age-old tradition in the union movement that workers who are losing pay by going on strike get support from other workers through strike funds,” he said. “Other workers are supporting strikers through a strike fund as they have since this movement started.”

Franchisee Decisions

Burger King Worldwide Inc., the second-largest burger chain, said worker pay was up to the owners of individual restaurants. Franchisees, who own and operate almost all of its U.S. stores, make scheduling, wage and other employment decisions, Alix Salyers, a spokeswoman for the Miami-based company, said in an e-mail.

A wage of $15 an hour would be about 65 percent more than the national average, based on Labor Department statistics. Today’s nationwide strike is being supported by the Service Employees International Union. Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, joined protesters in Oakland, California.

The demonstrations began in New York in November 2012, when about 200 workers walked off the job. Protesters targeted the McDonald’s corporate headquarters for another demonstration in May, prompting the company to tell employees to stay home.

Powerful Unions

Union organizers also celebrated a victory in July when the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel determined that McDonald’s has joint responsibility with franchise owners for how employees are treated. If upheld, the decision may bring McDonald’s to the table during collective bargaining, making unions more powerful.

The Times Square McDonald’s was chosen for a New York protest because of its prominent location, said Fells, 34. After previous demonstrations failed to draw much of a response from fast-food companies, workers knew they had to step up their tactics, Fells said.

“They were willing to put their bodies on the line,” he said. “They feel like the industry hasn’t responded yet and they wanted to get their attention.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Craig Giammona in New York at cgiammona@bloomberg.net; Leslie Patton in Chicago at lpatton5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net Ben Livesey, John Lear

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