Fast-Food Workers Arrested At Protests

Carol Kopp/AOL Jobs A Philadelphia police officer arrests a protester at fast-food workers' rally Sept. 4, 2014

Protesters were arrested at demonstrations in cities across the U.S. on Thursday, as employees stepped up the pressure on America's fast-food giants to raise their wages.

Demonstrations by employees and union supporters were held outside McDonald's and other chain restaurants in as many as 150 cities. An estimated 500 protesters were arrested nationwide, according to organizers.

The workers are seeking an increase to $15 an hour, nearly double their current average salary. Restaurant work is America's lowest-paid job segment.

The action kicked off Thursday morning with the reported arrests of 19 protesters outside a McDonald's in the middle of New York City's Times Square. About 400 demonstrators chanted and waved signs, while customers streamed in and out of a giant McDonald's on West 42nd Street, according to The New York Daily News.

As the day rolled on, demonstrators were arrested in Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Little Rock, Las Vegas and San Diego. Ongoing coverage and comments can be followed on Twitter at #fastfoodstrike.

Philadelphia's lunch-hour protest was a civilized affair, with about 200 protesters, union supporters and on-lookers surrounded by police gathering outside a McDonald's restaurant a block from City Hall. A Baptist minister spoke and a folksinger led the crowd in protest songs before police attempted to clear the intersection for traffic. About a dozen protesters invited arrest by refusing to move after a request by a police officer. One officer was overheard telling a protester that he sympathized with his goal, but had to do his job.

The National Council of Chain Restaurants, an industry trade group, dismissed today's protests as "choreographed activity" stage-managed by unions. "While it is common for labor unions to stage events in order to grab media attention, encouraging activities that put both restaurant workers and their customers in danger of physical harm is not only irresponsible, it's disturbing," said a statement from Rob Green, executive director. "Unions are calling it 'civil disobedience' when in reality, this choreographed activity is trespassing and it's illegal."

Hoping to turn the heat up on more low-wage employers, the movement's organizers added another service industry to the mix: Home care workers were invited to join Thursday's protests.

St. Louis is one big city that was spared protests, in light of the recent turmoil in nearby Ferguson that followed the shooting death of a young man by a police officer. Workers from St. Louis outlets reportedly traveled to events in nearby cities.

Thursday's demonstrations were the latest round in a series of protests that began almost two years ago, coinciding with a national debate over the federal minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 an hour.

The group, which has been funded by the Service Employees International Union, was buoyed by a Labor Day weekend shout-out from President Barack Obama. In a speech in Milwaukee, the president noted, "All across the country right now 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."
Carol Kopp/AOL Pastor Larry Patrick leads a prayer at Philadelphia fast-food workers' rally on Sept. 4, 2014.

In his speech, the president repeated his call for an increase in the federal minimum wage. "There's no denying a simple truth: America deserves a raise," he said. "If you work full-time, you shouldn't be living in poverty."

Vice President Joe Biden delivered a similar message at a Labor Day event in Detroit. "The American people have not walked away from what they believe they are entitled to. Just give them a chance. No handout, just give them a chance," Biden said in his speech to a union crowd.

The movement also got a shot in the arm from the National Labor Relations Board, which recently ruled that McDonald's Corp. shares responsibility for the workers who wear its uniform. Restaurant workers are employed by franchisees, not by the parent corporation. But the board ruled that both bear legal responsibility for working conditions.

An increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour has been sought by Democrats but stalled in Congress due to Republican opposition. In the absence of federal action, many state and municipal governments have moved to raise their local wages, to as high as $15 per hour in Seattle.

Opponents of a hike in the minimum wage warn that it would be a job-killer. However, a recent study indicates that 12 of the 13 states that have raised their minimum wages have recorded job growth.

Home care workers, who assist house-bound elderly and disabled clients, make a median wage of $10.10 an hour, with some paid as little as $8.03 hourly, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median pay for fast food workers is currently $8.74 per hour.

Fast food worker protests across the world
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Fast-Food Workers Arrested At Protests
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - SEPTEMBER 10: Laura Rollins joins with others to protest in front of a McDonald's restaurant in support of a $15 an hour minimum wage on September 10, 2015 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles are among cities that have adopted a $15 an hour minimum wages. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
McDonald's world's largest fast food chain workers protest in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil on August 18, 2015 demanding to the company to comply with Brazil's labour legislation. The banner reads (top to bottom) #Without Rights It Isn't Legal/Good', 'Menu of Scandals', '1-Big Disrespect 2-Mc Humiliation 3-Mc Slavery 4-Mc Shame 5-Mc Scandal' and ' I Hate All That A lot! Brazil'. AFP PHOTO / Miguel SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 22: Fast food workers and community activists protest outside a McDonald's restaurant in the Loop on June 22, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The protestors were calling for an increase in the minimum wage to $15-dollars-per-hour. The demonstration was staged to coincide with the 4th hearing of the Wage Board in New York City as it debates the $15-dollar-per-hour increase for its workers. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Demonstrators march past a McDonald's Corp. restaurant during a rally in Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Labor activists seeking $15-an-hour wages marched on McDonald's headquarters on Wednesday, marking the second straight year of protests ahead of the fast-food chain's annual meeting. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Home health care workers and other protesters hold signs at a rally in support of minimum wage increase in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Fast-food workers held rallies in 236 U.S. cities Wednesday in their biggest protest yet for higher pay and union rights. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Signs lay in the street before the start of a rally in support of minimum wage increase in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Fast-food workers held rallies in 236 U.S. cities Wednesday in their biggest protest yet for higher pay and union rights. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 15: Demonstrators gather in front of a McDonald's restaurant to call for an increase in minimum wage on April 15, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The demonstration was one of many held nationwide to draw attention to the cause. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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