Joining a nationwide call by union organizers seeking a $15-a-hour minimum wage, fast-food workers and their supporters in Sacramento took to the streets Thursday, staging a peaceful protest on Broadway that led to the arrests of 10.
The arrests came shortly before noon at the culmination of a brief rally on Broadway and 24th Street, where supporters and local politicians endorsed fast-food workers’ rights to form a union and to receive a $15-an-hour wage.
The late-morning rally – and a short march down Broadway – were part of a nationwide day of action that saw sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience by fast-food workers, some of whom walked off their jobs and willingly got arrested, in cities across the country, from Los Angeles to Manhattan. Activists aimed their protests at fast-food giants such as McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC.
In Sacramento, several hundred chanting, sign-carrying activists gathered at 11 a.m. outside a Subway restaurant at 27th Street and Broadway. There, they were encouraged by short remarks from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, outgoing state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Mary Kay Henry, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Service Employees International Union.
A smiling Johnson stood among the mass of marchers and said he was “proud to be standing with you here today.” At one point, with police looking on, he asked the crowd to be peaceful, adding with a chuckle, “Don’t get me in trouble.”
Steinberg, noting fast-food workers’ goal of attaining a $15-an-hour wage, told the crowd that it was an important to “make sure every working person” in California makes a decent wage. He added that “a minimum wage is not a living wage in California.”
As of July 1, the state’s minimum wage is $9 per hour. It will increase again to $10 per hour in 2016.
Marchers included young men and women identified by organizers as Sacramento-area fast-food restaurant workers. Most of those arrested were wearing shirts with the McDonald’s “golden arches” logo. SEIU’s Henry said the marchers’ ranks included California health care workers attending a separate gathering at the Sacramento Convention Center.
Shortly before 11:15 a.m., the marchers moved peacefully down Broadway, with Sacramento police offers directing traffic around them. They gathered in the intersection of 24th and Broadway, adjacent to a McDonald’s restaurant, prompting police to block off the thoroughfare for two blocks. Shortly after, a small group of protesters sat down in the middle of the street and refused to move. At that point, police moved in and quietly arrested 10 people and escorted them to a police van. By 11:45 a.m., the rally broke up, with activists leaving on foot or heading to chartered buses.
SEIU organizers said before the event that some marchers planned to be arrested.
The SEIU’s Henry said peaceful civil disobedience had become necessary after a series of nationwide protests and other strikes had failed to persuade fast-food companies to budge on labor issues. She said activists had learned lessons “from our ancestors in the civil rights movement.”
Sacramento police said those arrested in Sacramento were cited and released on charges related to failure to disperse.
The march along Broadway was the first of two events Thursday in Sacramento. At 6 a.m., protesters with signs chanted slogans outside a Fruitridge Road McDonald’s restaurant. No arrests were made there.
One of the early morning demonstrators, Quani Dupree, 20, said she was recently let go from a Sacramento McDonald’s because she wanted to join a union. She now works at an elementary school teaching computer skills. “We are all here for the same thing: to unionize and get benefits,” she said. “Also, we all need a living wage. I couldn’t pay my rent without my mom or sister helping me.”
National organizers said fast-food workers went on strike Thursday at more than 1,000 outlets. The effort was buoyed by President Barack Obama at a recent appearance in Milwaukee, where he renewed his push for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.
McDonald’s released a statement Thursday that about 90 percent of McDonald’s restaurants are independently owned and operated by franchisees who set wages according to job levels and local and federal laws.
“At McDonald’s we respect everyone’s rights to peacefully protest,” the statement read. “The topic of minimum wage goes well beyond McDonald’s – it affects our country’s entire workforce. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace.”