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Flint – Several people were injured before dawn Tuesday when a pickup truck collided with a group of protesters calling for higher pay and the right to form unions in Michigan, in what police said appeared to be an accident.

Police Chief Tim Johnson said he doesn’t believe the crash near a fast-food restaurant in Flint was intentional and that the driver “seemed pretty shaken up” afterward. Johnson initially said four or five people had non-life-threatening injuries, but later said eight were hospitalized.

“We just came from the hospital. Several people were getting released,” Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry told The Associated Press a few hours after the protest. “Three still are being observed.”

Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer was among those participating in the protest. She wasn’t injured and a post on her Twitter account says she’s “incredibly sad that so many people were hurt.” Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, are battling for governor.

Whitmer was at the front of the line of protesters and didn’t see the crash, said Nicole Simmons, Whitmer’s press secretary. 

The protests are part of an effort to elect pro-union candidates in the November general election. Walkouts are planned in Milwaukee on Wednesday and Chicago on Thursday. On Thursday, higher education workers are expected to join fast food workers in a protest in Miami, Henry said.

The protesters had been walking along the street in the dark when some were struck. Johnson said the driver “acted like he didn’t see them.”

“Details on the accident are still being gathered at this time,” said Candice Mushatt, a spokeswoman for the city of Flint. “Mayor (Karen) Weaver’s thoughts and prayers are with them as we follow up.”

The protest was organized by Fight for $15, a national movement seeking to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast food, child care, airlines and other workers. The group also wants the right to start unions or join existing ones.

Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature voted last month to gradually increase the state’s $9.25 minimum wage to $12 by 2022 – keeping the initiative from the November ballot – but lawmakers could water down the law after the election.

 Democrat Rashida Tlaib will join fast-food workers Tuesday afternoon in Detroit. Tlaib faces candidates from the Green and Working Class parties for the 13th House seat.

Officeholders and those seeking election in November who are taking part in the protests “understand that there are too many overworked and underpaid Americans,” said Henry.

And those workers are taking action after seeing minimum wages rise elsewhere. Henry said change can come at the ballot box.

“We are losing patience with an economy that continues to leave us out,” she said.

“Details on the accident are still being gathered at this time,” said Candice Mushatt, a spokeswoman for the city of Flint. “Mayor (Karen) Weaver’s thoughts and prayers are with them as we follow up.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc and the Associated Press contributed

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

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