LOS ANGELES/CHICAGO (Reuters) - Scores of demonstrators were arrested on Tuesday as U.S. fast-food and airport workers led nationwide ‘Fight for $15’ protests calling for higher pay and union rights in their first major action since Donald Trump was elected president.
Trump, an international property developer and reality TV star with no government experience, swept into power with promises of creating jobs, especially for downtrodden Americans.
The president-elect - who at various times on the campaign trail suggested U.S. workers were overpaid, but also that the minimum wage should be raised - is due to take office on Jan. 20.
“(Trump) needs to be held accountable for his promises,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ, a property service workers union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union that backs ‘Fight for $15’.
Fast-food workers, home care and child care providers, janitors and Uber drivers organized by the campaign targeted McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) restaurants in several major cities. Protesters also rallied at busy airports such as O’Hare International in Chicago and Logan International in Boston.
More than 300 protesters gathered before dawn at Zuccotti Park in New York City, banging drums and chanting slogans.
“When we started demanding $15 ... people thought we were crazy, but we were just demanding the basic minimum to survive,” said protestor Alvin Major, 50, a Guyanese immigrant who lives in Brooklyn and works at a KFC (YUM.N) restaurant.
“Right now I can barely pay my bills,” said Major, who has four children and a wife who is ill.
Police reported multiple arrests in several cities after protesters clogged traffic. The arrests included 26 in New York City, 36 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 39 in Detroit, and 40 in Los Angeles.
There were protests but no arrests in New Orleans, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee, police said.
U.S.-born Kisha Rivera, 41, recently moved her family from Puerto Rico to Chicago, where she now earns $10.50 an hour cleaning airline cabins. She joined baggage handlers and other airport employees for Tuesday’s protests, which did not disrupt travel.
“Even though I work 40 hours a week ... the wages aren’t enough to survive in this city,” said Rivera, a widow who receives state food assistance and social security survivor benefits for the younger of her two children.
President-elect Trump said last year that U.S. workers’ wages were “too high” and made the nation uncompetitive, but this year, he has said the minimum wage should rise, with states taking the lead.
Trump’s as-yet-unannounced choice for Labor Secretary will have a big impact on the administration’s approach to wages, working conditions and unions.
McDonald’s said in a statement that it invests in its workers by helping them to earn degrees and on-the-job skills. The company last year raised the average hourly pay to around $10 for workers in the restaurants it owns. However, most U.S. McDonald’s workers are employed by franchisees who set their own wages.
Opponents to raising the minimum wage say higher costs will force restaurants to cut hiring, and that some businesses would not survive.
Hopes for an increase in the $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage were dashed earlier this month by the election of a Republican-controlled U.S. Congress.
Still, voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington approved state minimum wage increases, encouraging advocates to continue pressing their case at the local levels.
Home care worker Sumer Spika, 37, carved out time between her morning and evening shifts to join the Minneapolis protest.
“This is what I had to do for someone to listen,” said Spika, who makes $12.93 per hour as a state employee. She is a member of an SEIU-affilated union, but earns no overtime.
Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Additional reporting by Alexander Besant and Amy Tennery in New York, Scott Malone in Boston, Lucy Nicholson in Los Angeles and Renita D. Young in Chicago; Editing by Peter Henderson, Bill Rigby and Lisa Von Ahn