DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Thirty people were briefly taken into police custody after a minimum wage protest outside an east side McDonald’s got out of hand Thursday morning.
Those arrested were among the crowd of about 200 protesters marching around the restaurant on Mack Avenue. The demonstration was part of an effort by workers at fast-food chains around the country to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Several of the protesters went from civil picketing to locking arms and sitting in the street, preventing traffic from passing through.
“At one point they were walking on both sides of Mack Avenue but they are now concentrating themselves in the eastbound lanes, they have those completely blocked off here, walking and holding up their signs,” WWJ’s Bill Szumanski said from above the scene in Chopper 950.
Police waited for about 30 minutes, warning the protesters they could either move on their own or face arrest.
“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 police say of the 30 people placed in handcuffs, 24 were ticketed for disorderly conduct and released. The remain six are being held because they have outstanding warrants, police said.
Organizers say the act of civil obedience was choreographed by the D15 campaign to bring more attention to the cause. Pastor W.J. Rideout, one of the protest organizers, offered no apologies for their actions.
“You know, we’re not afraid anything; I told the police officers and I told the corporation that,” he said. “We’re not scared. We’re here to send a message.”
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.
Authorities said no force was used during any of the arrests and all of the protesters were compliant during the processing phase.
When contacted by WWJ for comment, this is what a McDonald’s spokesperson had to say:
McDonald’s and our independent franchisees support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace. We believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on owners of small and medium-sized businesses – like the ones who own and operate the majority of our restaurants – is manageable. Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of “full time” employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses owners.
It’s important to know approximately 90% of our U.S. restaurants are independently owned and operated by franchisees who set wages according to job level and local and federal laws. McDonald’s does not determine wages set by our more than 3,000 U.S. franchisees.
The “Fight for $15” campaign, 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. President Barack Obama mentioned the campaign 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,” he added.
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.
Kaya Moody, a 20-year-old single mother who works at a different McDonald’s location in Detroit, has taken part in several protests and she admits it hasn’t been an easy sell.
“We always get the ‘Do you really think you deserve $15 an hour as a fast food worker?’ We get that a lot and I just feel like, who doesn’t deserve $15 an hour, you know? It’s a living wage. No one can survive off of $8.15 an hour, it’s almost impossible,” Moody told WWJ’s Ron Dewey.
The protests have been going on for about two years, but organizers have kept the campaign in the spotlight by switching their tactics every few months. 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.
Kendall Fells, an organizing director for Fast Food Forward, said workers in a couple of dozen cities were trained to peacefully engage in civil disobedience ahead of the planned protests.
TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.