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Fast food workers take to streets to demand $15 minimum wage

Dozens of fast food workers have been arrested at protests around the country where they are demanding higher pay at popular restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King and Domino's.

Fast food workers in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and possibly more cities were arrested for blocking traffic in front of restaurants early Thursday morning, while thousands more continued protesting peacefully, according to news reports.

Backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), fast food workers in 150 cities are walking off the job and picking up picket signs to demand that they be paid no less than $15 per hour. This is the seventh strike organized by the Fast Food Forward campaign since November 2012, when the campaign began.

"At Thursday’s strike, fast food restaurants will see firsthand that workers are willing to do whatever it takes to win $15 and union rights,” said Kendall Fells, the organizing director at Fast Food Forward, which receives funding from the SEIU.

The fast food workers started the demonstrations early Thursday morning. At a McDonald's in New York City's Times Square, about 300 people showed up to protest, with reports indicating at least 19 were arrested.

In Detroit, about 200 fast food workers protested outside a McDonald's on the east side of the city with 42 people being arrested, according to reports.

The demonstrations also spread to Chicago, where about 150 fast food workers protested outside a popular Windy City McDonald's with another 23 being arrested.

The fast food workers said earlier this week that some were planning to be arrested during the protests. In many cases, they were arrested for blocking traffic, while people who picketed peacefully were not taken into custody.

The restaurant workers say anything less than $15 an hour is not a livable wage.

But business groups and franchises are pushing back on the campaign, arguing an increase in the minimum wage would be bad for the economy and ultimately hurt workers.

Steve Caldeira, CEO of the International Franchise Association, said in a Wednesday statement that the SEIU and other labor groups were putting pressure on the corporations in a callous attempt to grow their membership.

“When you boil this all down, it’s really about the unions being hypocritical and greedy by exploiting proposals meant to support fast food workers to enrich themselves,” Caldeira said in a statement.

The Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s most powerful business group, produced an analysis that says more than 40 of the full-time employees at SEIU headquarters make less than $15 per hour — the same amount that the union says should be the minimum for fast food workers.

The Chamber says its report was based on public documents that the SEIU provided to the Labor Department.

The SEIU did not respond to a request for comment about the Chamber study.

The fast food demonstrations could play into the hands of Democrats, who are pushing an increase in the minimum wage in their platform for the midterm elections. President Obama has thrown his support behind a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from the current $7.25 minimum.

Fells said that many cities are passing laws requiring wages above and beyond that level because of the Fast Food Forward campaign.

In Seattle, the minimum wage is $15 per hour, Fells pointed out, while teachers in Los Angeles and hospital employees in Baltimore also make no less than that amount.

Cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York are among those considering raising their minimum wages to $15 per hour.

Activists got a boost from a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling in July that found McDonald’s could be sued for labor violations at its franchisees. McDonald’s has long argued that its restaurants are run independently, thus shielding the parent company from liability.

Union organizers say the NLRB’s “joint employer” ruling will likely encourage companies like McDonald’s to player a bigger role in management decisions.

Ultimately, that could open the door for a nationwide unionization of all McDonald’s employees and possibly at other fast food chains.

— This story was updated at 12:23 p.m.