Twenty-one workers demanding a $15-an-hour wage were arrested while conducting a sit-in outside a McDonald’s in Times Square on Thursday as the fast-food movement for the first time embraced widespread civil disobedience to escalate its fight.
Organizers said several hundred fast-food workers planned to sit in at restaurants in dozens of cities Thursday. Organizers said the police arrested more than 50 workers in Detroit for such action Thursday. The civil disobedience is intended to draw more attention to the “Fight for Fifteen’’ movement and to step up pressure on the nation’s fast-food chains.
“I’m doing this for better pay,’’ said Crystal Harris, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, minutes before she sat down in the middle of 42nd Street outside a giant McDonald’s restaurant around 7:30 a.m. Thursday. “I struggle to make ends meet on $7.50 an hour.’’
The protesters carried signs saying, “Low Pay Is Not OK,’’ “On Strike to Lift My Family Up,’’ and “Whatever It Takes: $15 and Union Rights.’’ The protesters want McDonald’s and other chains to agree not to fight a unionization drive.
The protests Thursday were the seventh in a series of one-day strikes, with organizers saying that fast-food workers would walk out at restaurants in more than 100 cities across the United States, with civil disobedience for the first time becoming a major ingredient in the protests.
Ever since the fast-food strikes began in just one city, New York, in November 2012, strategists have focused on expanding the effort to more cities and more workers to increase pressure on chains to set a wage floor of $15 an hour.
The Service Employees International Union, which has spent more than $10 million underwriting the fast-food movement, sought to add more protesters and decibels to the efforts Thursday by getting home-care aides to join the picket lines for the first time. The SEIU, which represents hundreds of thousands of health care workers and janitors, hopes that the push for $15 will help lift the wages of many home-care workers and other low-wage health care workers.
“With the integration of home-care workers into this effort, this is starting to become a larger low-wage workers movement,’’ said Kendall Fells, organizing director for the movement, known as Fast Food Forward.
McDonald’s and other chains say that they and their franchise operators pay competitive wages and provide job opportunities that allow many to rise to better jobs in the industry. Fast-food chains have said the one-day strikes have hardly affected business, saying that only a handful of workers have walked out at many restaurants.
Restaurant trade groups have repeatedly denounced the call for a $15 wage, saying it would push up menu prices and result in less hiring of fast-food workers, especially of entry level, low-skilled workers. The International Franchise Association says a $15 wage would wipe out the profit margins at many fast-food restaurants.
LaTonya Allen, a home-care aide in Atlanta who earns $9 an hour, said she was joining a fast-food workers’ protest outside a Burger King on Thursday.
“Earning $15 would make a huge difference,’’ she said. “It would really help me and my husband pay our bills. It would enable us to do more things together as a family. All we do now is work, work, work.’’
Home-care workers were expected to join the fast-food protests in six cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle.
“We’d like to see these protests by home-care workers spread to other cities and states,’’ said Mary Kay Henry, president of the service employees union. “We’d like it to get as big as the fast-food protests.’’
Some economists have warned that if wages for home-care workers rose to $15, that could raise the cost for families and for taxpayers who finance much of the nation’s home care through Medicaid and Medicare.