11 Arrested after Fast Food Workers Go on Strike in Downtown Little Rock

11 Arrested after Fast Food Workers Go on Strike in Downtown Little Rock

Similar protests expected at restaurants in more than 150 U.S. cities.
Protest line at McDonald's in downtown Little Rock. Two arrested.
Protest line at McDonald's in downtown Little Rock. Two arrested.
Update (2:00 p.m.):
LITTLE ROCK, AR - Eleven people were arrested in downtown Little Rock this morning at a protest outside the McDonald's restaurant at 7th & Broadway.

They were part of a nationwide demonstration calling for higher wages (see additional details below.)

Just before 2 this afternoon, the LRPD reported via email that all of the demonstrators had been cited and released. The LRPD said also that although the demonstration hampered traffic, the demonstrators were cooperative and compliant. Due to their cooperative nature at the time of arrest, they were not handcuffed and were simply escorted to a waiting transport van.  

Those arrested were identified as: 
Shnette Hooker, 43, of St. Louis, Missouri
Britney Johnson, 25, of Little Rock
Maria Leaks, 20, of Jacksonville
Chris Lairy, 30, of North Little Rock
Benjamin Patterson, 21, of St. Louis, Missouri
Anthony Porter, 32, of Little Rock
Akil Poynter, 20, of St. Louis, Missouri
Justin Seville, 25, of Little Rock
Kierra Warren, 22, of Pine Bluff
Robert Watkins, 32, of Little Rock
Unidentified teen

Update (9:05 a.m.):
LITTLE ROCK, AR - A protest has ended in downtown Little Rock with the arrests of 11 demonstrators at the scene of a fast food workers strike outside the McDonald's at 7th & Broadway in downtown.

The Little Rock Police Department says 25 officers were called to the scene when the protest started around 7:45 and that those arrested are being charged with disorderly conduct.

After the protest ended, the following news release was issued:
Fast-food workers walked off their jobs for the first time Thursday, joining a growing nationwide movement for $15 and hour wages and the right to form a union without retaliation. Workers went on strike at major national fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s as part of a 150-city walkout that hit all corners of the country, from Charleston, SC, to Chicago, Ill.  

Twenty-two Little Rock fast food workers went on strike today. By 8:30 nearly 100 workers and community supporters marched from in front of the McDonalds at 7th and Broadway to 3rd street. Ten workers initiated a sit-in in the middle of the street, linking arms while chanting, in a show of peaceful civil disobedience. Police made arrests of all 10 fast food workers peacefully protesting in the street.

“I first heard about the campaign from workers in other cities, and I saw that they were going through the same things I’m going through” said Dominique Williams, who earns $7.50 at McDonalds. “I'm going on strike because $7.50 an hour isn't enough. When I get paid, I'm not able to take care of the necessities, the small things, let alone rent.”

Across the country, more than 700 fast-food workers— in uniforms from restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s—were arrested while calling for $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation. 

Thursday’s strike follows a series of major victories for fast-food workers. In July, the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) general counsel determined that, despite McDonald’s repeated claims, the company is a joint employer that exerts substantial power over its employees’ working conditions. For nearly two years, McDonald’s and other fast-food workers have been joining together and going on strike, calling for $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation. But time and time again, the company and other industry players have tried to sidestep workers’ calls, inventing a make-believe world in which responsibility for wages and working conditions falls squarely on the shoulders of franchisees. 

The NLRB move shows that McDonald’s can no longer hide behind its franchisees for the poor and often illegal treatment of workers. The government’s determination is the latest challenge to the fast-food industry’s low-wage business model, in which franchisors reap rewards of a profitable industry, while forcing franchisees to shoulder all the risk. In March, McDonald’s workers in three states filed class-action lawsuits against the company, alleging widespread wage theft. The New York Times wrote that the suits, “argue that both the corporate parent and the independently owned franchises where many of the plaintiffs work are jointly responsible for illegal pay practices carried out by the franchises…That strikes at the heart of the low-wage fast-food business model.” 

And last month, the California state legislature passed a bill that expands the rights of franchisees statewide and brings greater balance to the franchisor-franchisee relationship. Huffington Post wrote that the fast-food industry “lost a really big fight,” while MSNBC called the bill a “major blow” to fast-food chains. By protecting franchisees from being put out of business arbitrarily and ensuring they can sell to qualified buyers, the legislature took a critical step toward correcting the imbalance of power between franchisors and the franchisees and workers who contribute to the success of fast-food restaurants in California. 

A campaign that started in New York City in November 2012, with 200 fast-food workers walking off their jobs demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation, has since spread to more than 150 cities in every region of the country, including the South. The growing fight for $15 has been credited with elevating the debate around inequality in the U.S. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said that it has “entirely changed the politics of the country.” Since the campaign launched, nearly 7 million low-wage workers have seen their wages rise. What seemed like a far-fetched goal--$15 an hour--is now a reality in Seattle, where Bloomberg News said the city adopted “the rallying cry of fast-food workers.”  

As it spreads, the movement is challenging fast-food companies’ outdated notion that their workers are teenagers looking for pocket change. Today’s workers are mothers and fathers struggling to raise children on wages that are too low. And they’re showing the industry that if it doesn’t raise pay, it will continue to be at the center of the national debate on what’s wrong with our economy.  

As corporations push down real wages for average American workers, a growing number of economists warn that low wages are a barrier to growth that are harming the overall U.S. economy.  

Not only do fast-food jobs pay so little that a majority of industry workers are forced to rely on public assistance, but many workers don’t even see all of the money they earn. In addition to the class-action suits filed against McDonald’s alleging widespread and systematic wage theft, a poll by Hart research showed 89% of fast-food workers have had money stolen from their checks. 

The fast-food worker campaign has fast-food companies back on their heels. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, McDonald’s said worker protests might force it to raise wages this year. A recent report shows the industry has by far the largest disparity between worker and CEO pay. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said, “Excessive pay disparities pose a risk to share owner value," and that conversations around inequality should move into the boardrooms of profitable fast-food companies.  

USA Today called the growing worker movement, “the issue that just won’t go away” for the fast-food industry. Indeed, Thursday’s arrests show that rather than going away, the movement is only growing stronger.

Update (8:50 a.m.):

LITTLE ROCK, AR - Two arrests are reported so far this morning at the scene of a fast food workers strike outside the McDonald's at 7th & Broadway in downtown.

Original story (8:15 a.m.):
LITTLE ROCK, AR - A demonstration outside a local McDonald's restaurant is under way by a group calling itself "Little Rock Show Me $15."

The protest started at 7:45 Thursday morning at 7th & Broadway downtown, blocking traffic through the area. About 50 people were taking part as of 8:15 and police were working to get them off the street.

According to a news release, the action follows a recent convention at which they vowed to do “whatever it takes” to win $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

The group says their demonstration comes days after President Obama highlighted their campaign in a Labor Day speech. Here's an excerpt:
“All across the country right now 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. There is no denying a simple truth. America deserves a raise. Give America a raise. …You know what, if I were looking for a job that lets me build some security for my family, I’d join a union. 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…I’d want a union looking out for me.” -- President Obama, Sept 1, 2014, Milwaukee, WI

Besides McDonald's, workers were expected to strike at other major Little Rock fast food restaurants, including Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC.

The group's news release states that Thursday’s strike comes a little more than a month after the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel determined that, despite McDonald’s repeated claims, the company is a joint employer that exerts substantial power over its employees’ working conditions. For nearly two years, McDonald’s and other fast food workers have been joining together and going on strike, calling for $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation. But time and time again, the company and other industry players have tried to sidestep workers’ calls, inventing a make-believe world in which responsibility for wages and working conditions falls squarely only on the shoulders of franchisees, not the corporations that control how food is served and priced.

The campaign that started in New York City in Nov. 2012, with 200 fast food workers walking off their jobs demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation, has since spread to more than 150 cities in every region of the country. 

Corporate officials with McDonald's have released this statement on the protests:
“These demonstrations do not provide an accurate picture of what it means to work at McDonald's. We respect the strong relationship which exists among McDonald's, our independent operators, and the employees who work in McDonald's restaurants.  

McDonald's aims to offer competitive pay and benefits to our employees. We provide training and professional development for all of those who wish to take advantage of those opportunities. Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald's. 

McDonald’s and our independent franchisees value the contributions that each of our employees make every day in the restaurants.”

As it spreads, the movement is challenging fast food companies’ "outdated notion" that their workers are teenagers looking for pocket change. Today’s workers are mothers and fathers struggling to raise children on wages that are too low. And they’re showing the industry that if it doesn’t raise pay, it will continue to be at the center of the national debate on what’s wrong with our economy. 

The nationwide action on strike day can be followed online (click here) and with the hashtag #StrikeFastFood.

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