Arrests in first 'Fight for $15' protest since Trump win

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 29, 2016 3:07 AM

By Lisa Baertlein and Timothy Mclaughlin

LOS ANGELES/CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. workers from fast-food chains and nearly 20 airports staged sit-ins and some were arrested in nationwide protests for higher pay, union rights and immigration reform on Tuesday, their first major action since businessman Donald Trump won the presidential election.

McDonald's Corp <MCD.N> restaurants in 340 cities were prime rally targets, while baggage handlers and cabin cleaners at Chicago's O'Hare and Boston's Logan international airports were due to demonstrate in support of workers demanding starting pay of $15 per hour, organizers of the "Fight for $15" campaign said.

More than 200 protesters gathered before dawn at Zuccotti Park in New York City's Financial District, the site of a camp set up in 2011 by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, where they banged drums and chanted slogans calling for a $15 minimum wage.

About a dozen protesters were arrested after they blocked morning rush-hour traffic in the street near a McDonald's restaurant.

"When we started demanding $15 ... people thought we were crazy, but we were just demanding the basic minimum to survive," said protestor Alvin Major, 50, a Guyanese immigrant who lives in Brooklyn and works at a KFC restaurant <YUM.N>.

"Right now I can barely pay my bills," said Major, who has four children and a sick wife.

Some 34 people were arrested in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when they blocked traffic following a march that began at a McDonald's restaurant, the city's police department said on Twitter. The march, which drew about 100 people, was otherwise peaceful, police said.

Home health and child care providers, and some drivers for ride service Uber Technologies Inc were planning to join the action, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union.

Last year Trump said U.S. workers' wages were "too high" and made the nation uncompetitive, but this year, he has said the minimum wage should rise, with states taking the lead.

Hopes of an increase in the $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage were dashed earlier in November by the election of a Republican-controlled Congress, but advocates say they will continue to press for increases at state and local levels.

"We've already run a path to $15 (per hour) in states like California and New York, and we're not stopping now," said LiAnne Flakes, a 40-year-old child care worker from Tampa, Florida, who said she planned to protest.

Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington raised their state minimum wages in November, and labor groups are considering campaigns in states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.

Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU in New York, said Trump won the election by promising jobs for voters who were not able to see a way toward success for themselves or their children.

"There is no question to us that this is a moment that working people need to take action, mobilize, organize, and that (Trump) needs to be held accountable for his promises," Figueroa said.

Protest organizers have also criticized Trump's pledge to deport up to 3 million undocumented workers with criminal records, as well as his treatment of women and Muslims.

McDonald's said in a statement that it invested in its workers by helping them to earn degrees and on-the-job skills. Franchisees, which own most U.S. fast-food restaurants, set wages for their employees.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Additional reporting by Alexander Besant in New York and Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Bill Rigby and Lisa Von Ahn)