Workers from Hartford and New Haven area major fast food restaurants went on strike Thursday as part of a national effort to gain attention for workers' rights. In Hartford on Washington Street, protests partially blocked traffic, and several protesters were arrested.
Workers across the country from McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, and other fast food chains engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience alongside clergy, elected officials, and others. They advocated for a $15 an hour living wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.
About 100 protesters in Hartford marched up Park Street to a McDonald's on Washington Street. They listened to speeches inside the store before staging a sit-down protest in the street outside.
Samuel Valez, 22, works at the Washington Street McDonald's, where he makes $8.70 an hour. "Everything is going up," he said. "Dairy products, gas is going up. Everything is going up — so why not our wages?"
Reggie Robinson works at a Burger King in Hartford. "I’m 28 years old," he said, "and I can’t pay student loans, let alone get a car to further my education or my career. It’s a struggle. I don’t even make enough a month to get an apartment."
After several warnings about disrupting traffic, 13 protesters were arrested and issued with a misdemeanor summons for disorderly conduct. Protesters on the scene praised the Hartford police for their peaceful handling of the situation.
Pastor AJ Johnson led the crowd in prayer as the arrests were being carried out. He said this type of action is a way to raise the profile of what has been a years-long campaign. "It takes a lot of courage and I commend the individuals that are out there doing this," he said of those arrested. "We let them know what they were getting into and they were willing to step up to the bat — and that’s what we need."
McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, and other multinationals targeted in the protests have said they leave it up to their franchise owners to decide pay rates, but Johnson said that’s ducking the issue. "Again, these people make billions in profits," he said. "We’re not talking about a small business on main street. We’re talking about companies all over the world — McDonald's all over the world have money to spend. We just want to say: pay your workers fair, the people who live in the community."
The National Labor Relations Board agreed in a preliminary ruling earlier this year that McDonald's can be held liable for labor law violations alongside its franchisees.
Nationwide, union organizers said they expected thousands to show up to protests. Police in New York and Detroit handcuffed several protesters who were blocking traffic on Thursday morning.
In 2012, 200 fast-food workers in New York City walked off their jobs with the same demands, and a movement has spread to other cities in favor of a living wage.
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.
This report includes information from The Associated Press.