11 arrested at Philly fast-food wage protest

Posted: September 05, 2014

UNDER A BLAZING noontime sun, Philadelphia police Capt. Stephen Glenn and a couple of officers slowly worked their way, one by one, down the row of 11 young fast-food workers and supporters sitting in the normally busy intersection of Broad and Arch streets in Center City.

Most of the youthful workers grabbed a microphone and uttered a short statement before the cops read their rights, arrested them, placed them in plastic handcuffs and led them to a waiting bus.

"I'm doing this so we can pay our medical bills - we're making history right now," protester Jose Torres said before he was led away.

Standing in the shadow of the large McDonald's at the intersection, some in the crowd of nearly 150 chanted: "Arrest the 1 Percent!"

At that moment, the fast-food worker movement - which began two years ago in New York and recently established a beachhead here - took a big step forward, yet also showed how much further it needs to go in its campaign for a $15-an-hour industry minimum wage and the right to form a union.

Glenn said the 11 arrested would be charged with the summary offense of blocking a public roadway and would likely be released, upon producing ID, with a ticket to appear later in court.

The dozens of workers who staged the one-day walkout from their jobs at McDonald's, Burger King, Popeyes, Dunkin' Donuts and elsewhere to march down North Broad Street was the biggest show of force yet for a movement that staged its first protest here only about four months ago.

The turnout was also just a small fraction of the city's estimated 15,000 restaurant workers, many of whom toil at fast-food outlets at or not much above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Speakers and participants in the job action insisted that - in a post-industrial economy where fast-food work has evolved from an after-school starter job for teens to the sole source of support for many families - they can't live on their low wages and irregular hours.

Restaurant-industry officials countered with proclamations that overall worker satisfaction is high and that working behind the counter or at the grill can still be a step toward the American dream.

"Restaurants continue to be a critical employer that trains America's workforce and provides a pathway towards upward mobility and success," the National Restaurant Association said in a statement emailed to the Daily News and other media outlets.

That failed to mollify fast-food workers who staged a day of marches and protests in 150 cities from New York to Seattle yesterday, resulting in scores of arrests in what organizers had promised would be a major escalation of their budding labor movement.

Here and elsewhere, the food-industry workers were joined by health-care aides also crusading for the $15 minimum wage.

Angela Owens, 33, a college-educated mother of three from North Philadelphia, fired up the crowd with an impassioned rant about needing food stamps to supplement her $11.95-an-hour salary at Liberty Home Choices.

"I'm tired of making this wage - I can't support my children," she said afterward. "I live across the street from drug dealers."

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