Arrests as local fast-food workers join in on national strike

DURHAM (WTVD) -- Fast food workers across the country walked off the job Thursday, calling for higher pay wages.

In the Triangle, workers - along with members of the NAACP - held several rallies in the latest attempt to escalate their efforts to get McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food companies to pay their employees at least $15 an hour.

Twenty-six people were arrested in Durham when they refused to move. Protests in New York and Detroit were also not so peaceful. Police handcuffed several protesters as they blocked traffic.

The protests, which were planned by labor organizers for about 150 cities nationwide throughout the day, 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. In the past, supporters have showed up at a McDonald's shareholder meeting and held strikes. The idea of civil disobedience arose in July when 1,300 workers held a convention in Chicago.

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.

President Barack Obama mentioned the campaign earlier this week at a Labor Day appearance in Milwaukee.

"There's a national movement going on made up of fast food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity," Obama said, as he pushed Congress to raise the minimum wage. "If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, I'd join a union."

The National Restaurant Association, on the other hand, said in a statement that the protests are an attempt by unions to "boost their dwindling membership." The industry lobbying group said it hopes organizers will be respectful to customers and workers during the protests.

Durham police reported 26 arrests for impeding traffic.

"Our officers used great professionalism during this event today and were able to make these arrests without incident," said Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, in a statement. "The officers closely monitored the situation and individuals in the group asked to be arrested."

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