Detroit Police crack down on fast food protests; Workers across country demanding higher wages

NEW YORK (AP/WXYZ) - Hundreds of workers from McDonald's, Taco Bell, Wendy's and other fast-food chains are walking off their jobs Thursday, 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.

Here in Detroit, protestors blocked Mack Avenue on the city's east side, forcing police to crack down on the protest and take many of the protestors into custody. Reports from the scene indicated that officers were running out of handcuffs. 

In many cases, police say, the protesters were given the option to be released from custody, if they would just stop blocking the street. However, police say some of the protesters refused to do so. In those cases, the protesters were arrested. 

Detroit Police say about 25 people were arrested.

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."

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Candice Choi in New York contributed to this report.

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