NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Dozens of protesters demanding higher wages for fast-food workers were handcuffed Thursday, including in Manhattan, where they blocked traffic.
It was the latest attempt by demonstrators to get McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food chains to pay their employees at least $15 an hour.
As of early Thursday afternoon, 19 people were arrested in New York, protest organizers said.
About a dozen demonstrators sat down in the middle of the intersection at Eighth Avenue and West 56th Street around noon. Police had to stop traffic going in all directions, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
The protesters were placed in plastic handcuffs and taken away by police, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
PHOTOS: Fast Food Workers Protest
Shantel Walker, who earns $8.50 at a Papa John’s in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was among those arrested, Diamond reported.
“When I get my paycheck, it’s a joke to me,” Walker said. “It’s a struggle just to pay my rent, buy my food and buy a MetroCard.”
Earlier Thursday, at least three people wearing McDonald’s uniforms were hauled away by police officers after standing in the middle of a busy street near Times Square.
Forty-two protesters were also arrested in Detroit; 23 in Chicago; 11 in Little Rock, Arkansas; and 10 in Las Vegas, according to organizers.
The protests, which were planned by labor organizers for about 150 cities nationwide throughout Thursday, are part of the “Fight for $15” campaign. Since the protests began in late 2012, organizers have switched up their tactics every few months.
Union organizers said they expected thousands to show up to Thursday’s protests around the country. Previously, turnout has been fairly minimal in many places.
Before Thursday’s protests, organizers said they planned to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to draw more attention to the cause. In the past, supporters have showed up at a McDonald’s shareholder meeting and held strikes. The idea of civil disobedience arose in July, when 1,300 workers held a convention in Chicago.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to get $15 an hour and a union in a civil manner,” protester Jamal Taver told 1010 WINS. “We’re not trying to disturb anybody or harm anyone; we’re just trying to stand up for what we believe and for what we feel is right.”
The movement, which is backed financially by the Service Employees International Union and others, has gained national attention 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.
In New York, the minimum wage is $8 an hour.
Prostester Prospero Sanchez, who was at the rally near Times Square, said the $11.50 per hour he earns making pizzas at a Domino’s Pizza restaurant is not enough to support him, his wife and two kids. He started working at the same restaurant 14 years ago, when he made $5 an hour.
He has asked his bosses for more money. “They said no,” Sanchez, 32, said.
Michael, wearing his McDonald’s uniform, told Papa some fast-food workers are also seeing their hours cut.
“To be honest with you, since minimum wage went up to $8, a lot of people do not work five days a week,” he said, adding that his schedule has been slashed to four days a week.
President Barack Obama mentioned the campaign earlier this week at a Labor Day appearance in Milwaukee.
“There’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity,” Obama said, as he pushed Congress to raise the minimum wage. “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.”
The National Restaurant Association, on the other hand, 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.
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