CHICAGO (AP) – Workers around the country went on strike at airports, shut down intersections outside fast-food joints, protested in Manhattan’s Financial District and went to jail Tuesday as part of a nationwide action for higher minimum wages.
Over the course of the day, protests spread from Boston to Los Angeles, where fast-food, retail and Uber workers blocked the intersection of East 7th Street and Alameda Street. Other fast-food and child-care workers blocked intersections and rallied in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis, New York and elsewhere.
In Chicago, hundreds of protesters at O’Hare International Airport gathered outside terminals chanting, “What do we want? $15! When do we want it? Now!”
Police gated an area to allow travelers room to walk, and as many as 500 workers at the airport planned to strike.
Elsewhere in the city, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was arrested with fast-food, home care and higher education workers. Cook County recently raised its minimum wage to $13 per hour over the next four years.
“We won’t back down until we win an economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few at the top,” Naquasia LeGrand, a McDonald’s worker from Albemarle, NC, said in a statement from Fight for $15.
“Working moms like me are struggling all across the country and until politicians and corporations hear our voices, our Fight for $15 is going to keep on getting bigger, bolder and ever more relentless.”
The protests, which organizers said occurred in about 340 cities, are the latest actions in a sustained and coordinated push for higher minimum wages across the nation. Officially, 43.1 million people in the U.S. live in poverty, and scores of others are economically insecure.
Since 2012, workers have gained nearly $62 billion in higher pay, according to a new report released by the National Employment Law Project this month. Raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $12 would lift pay for 35 million workers, or 1 in 4 employees nationwide, according to the liberal Economic Policy Institute.
The conservative-leaning, nonprofit Employment Policies Institute think tank has said it believes minimum wage increases will result in lost jobs, reduced hours and business closures. Business associations have made similar arguments against raising hourly wages.
As part of what was billed as Fight for $15’s most disruptive Day of Action, thousands planned to walk off the job at McDonald’s restaurants, organizers said.
“We need to come together across lines of class, race, and gender and tell our newly elected leaders in one clear voice that we will not let you divide us, oppress us, or take us one step backward in our march towards a more perfect union. The fight for voting rights, living wage and civil rights are all one fight,” Rev. William Barber II said in a statement.
Organizers reported late Tuesday that Barber was arrested in Durham, North Carolina during an action in support of the Fight for $15 movement, which is marking its fourth anniversary. “It’s time to walk together, go to jail together, fight for $15,” he said in a statement.
At a McDonald’s in Denver, about 100 people, including about 60 striking fast-food workers from around the metro area, picketed. Protesters briefly shut down a St. Louis McDonald’s restaurant, blocking the drive-thru for about 30 minutes. In Massachusetts, a state senator was among nearly three dozen people arrested after they sat down on a Cambridge street during a demonstration.
About 25 of the 350 protesters in New York City were arrested. One protester, Flavia Cabral, 55, struggles to make ends meet with two part-time jobs.
“All these people don’t have savings because we’re working check to check,” Cabral said. “We have to decide what we are going to get: We’re going to pay rent or we’re going to put food on the table, or we’re going to send my child to school.”
Detroit police say they arrested about 40 protesters who blocked traffic. And nearly three dozen protesters were arrested in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the San Francisco Bay Area, ride-hailing drivers, fast-food employees, airport workers and others shut down an Oakland intersection.
In New Jersey, airport workers marched between two terminals at Newark Liberty International Airport. Democratic Mayor Ras Baraka has called on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport, to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour at its facilities and take steps to hire more Newark residents.
“Risking arrest today isn’t the easy path, but it’s the right one. My job is all about caring for the next generation, but I’m not paid enough to be able to afford my own apartment or car,” Dayla Mikell, a child care worker in St. Petersburg, Florida, said in a statement.
“And when it’s your future on the line, you do whatever it takes to make sure you are heard far and wide.”
This story includes reporting from Paul Nyhan, senior writer for Equal Voice News.