Fast food protesters briefly shut down 87th St. in ‘Fight for $15' rally

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Hundreds of workers from McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and other fast-food chains walked off their jobs Thursday, including at the McDonald’s at 87th and State in Chicago, according to labor organizers of the latest national protest to push the companies to pay their employees at least $15 an hour.

This time, organizers said they plan to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, which may lead to arrests and draw more attention to the cause. They also said home-care workers will join the protests, which are expected to take place at fast-food restaurants in 150 cities nationwide, including Detroit, Chicago and New York.

Fast food workers began protesting outside the Chatham McDonald’s at 29 E. 87th St. Rep. Luis Gutierrez is expected to join workers at a protest at the McDonald’s at 2827 S. Cicero Ave. at 12:30 p.m.

Chicago Police said at 8:30 a.m. that the protest on 87th was peaceful and no arrests have been made. But shortly before 9 a.m., the protests had blocked portions of 87th Street and Chicago Police began to disperse the group.

Police arrested 19 people — 10 women and nine men — during Thursday morning’s protests outside the McDonalds at 87th and State Street. The people were taken to the nearby Sixth District, where they were issued citations and then released, police said.

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.

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, has declined to say what exactly is in store for the protests, other than workers in a couple of dozen cities were trained to peacefully engage in civil disobedience ahead of the planned protests. But workers involved in the movement recently cited sit-ins as an example of strategies they could use to intensify their push for higher pay and unionization.

Past protests have targeted a couple of restaurants in each city for a limited time, in many cases posing little disruption to operations.

The National Restaurant Association said in a statement that the protests are an attempt by unions to “boost their dwindling membership.”

Protesters jam 87th Street on the South Side as part of a planned protest over fast food minimum wages on Thursday morning shortly before police moved in. | Brian Jackson / Sun-Times

Police form up to move in on fast food workers protesting the minimum wage after the rally blocked 87th Street at State on the South Side on Thursday morning. | Brian Jackson / Sun-Times

Chicago Police detain protesters after a minimum wage rally for fast foot employees blocked portions of 87th Street at the McDonald’s on State. | Brian Jackson / Sun-Times

Associated Press and Sun-Times reports

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