Detroit — Mya Hill watched in dismay as Detroit police handcuffed protesters who blocked traffic on the city’s east side as part of a day of protests throughout the nation to prod fast-food chains to pay their employees at least $15 an hour.
The protests, which were planned for about 150 cities nationwide throughout Thursday, are part of the “Fight for $15” campaign. Since the protests began in late 2012, organizers have switched up their tactics every few months. Before Thursday’s protests, organizers said they planned to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to draw more attention to the cause.
Protesters in Detroit had said they planned to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.
“I didn’t see any resistance or reaction by the people who were arrested,” said Hill, a protester who lives in Lincoln Park. “They were put into the back of police cars. I was proud of them for being so brave.”
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.
Hill was one of about 100 protesters who marched through the parking lot of an east-side McDonald’s on Mack near Moross before dawn on Thursday, shouting slogans and bottling up the drive-thru lane.
Detroit police ticketed 24 protestors and arrested six others on outstanding traffic warrants. According to the Detroit Police Department, the arrests came about after a group of people abandoned the sidewalk and ended up blocking a lane of Mack.
According to Sgt. Michael Woody, there were 100 to 125 protesters at the McDonald’s when police arrived.
“The Detroit Police Department recognizes the right for citizens to assemble and protest,” Woody said in a statement. “However, it must be understood that there are still laws as it pertains to protesting. Citizens ... cannot become disorderly, block or impede the movement of other citizens.
“Unfortunately, there were several individuals involved in today's protest who did engage in these activities.”
According to Woody, no force was used during any of the arrests and all of the protesters were compliant during the processing phase.
“They were in a traffic lane on Mack Avenue and preventing people from getting by,” Woody said. “We told them they had the right to protest as long as they did it on the sidewalk. There was no force used by our officers and no resistance from the protesters.”
According to Woody, protesters quietly complied when told to put their hands behind their backs for cuffing.
“People were put into cars and quickly taken from the scene to minimize the emotions of the crowd,” he said.
Deputy Police Chief Steve Dolunt added protesters were given the option to leave before police acted.
“But they wouldn't," Dolunt said. "People were trying to get to work and get their kids to school but couldn't get through. The problem was exacerbated by the road construction on Mack."
The road is currently down to a single lane due to the ongoing construction.
Hill said she came to the protest with many co-workers in order to secure a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to form a union.
“I’m asking for a living wage, not a minimum wage,” Hill said. “I have to put gas in my car. I don’t want to have to decide if I’m going to pay DTE or my rent.”
Hill has worked at a Checkers in Lincoln Park for the past four years. She also works a second job at a dollar store.
“I work 13 hours a week at Checkers,” said Hill, the mother of a 1 ˝ year old son. “Rather than give us 20 hours a week, they hire more than they need in order to keep the hours down.”
The National Restaurant Association said in a statement that the protests are an attempt by unions to “boost their dwindling membership.”
In New York on Thursday, at least three people wearing McDonald’s uniforms were hauled away by police officers after standing in the middle of a busy street near Times Square.
On Monday, Michigan increased the minimum wage to $8.15, the first in a series of steps that ultimately will boost the state’s minimum wage 25 percent over four years to $9.25 in 2018. It then will automatically rise annually based on inflation.
Michigan joined nine other states in approving mandatory wage hikes, and its rate is now the ninth highest in the country. Monday’s increase marked its first minimum wage hike in seven years.
Supporters of the measure said the new wage will put more money in the pockets of 1 million Michigan wage earners and help the working poor. Under the new law, the state’s base hourly wage will rise well above the $7.25 federal rate.
Meanwhile, the Raise Michigan proposal for $10.10 failed to make the Nov. 4 ballot because the state’s election board eventually determined it didn’t have enough valid registered-voter signatures. Before its demise, it helped prod the Republican-controlled Legislature — joined by many Democrats — to raise the minimum wage in four stages.
Twenty-year-old Kaya Moody of Detroit works at a McDonald’s elsewhere in the city and just this week had her pay upped to the $8.15 an hour. Moody marched with the others.
The single mother says $15 an hour “would mean I could actually provide for my day-to-day expenses.”
Detroit police said they brought in officers usually assigned to school patrol to assist at the protest.
“It wasn’t a violent situation,” Woody said. “They had the right to protest, and they made their point very well.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.