Hundreds of fast-food workers and labor allies demanding a $ 15-an-hour wage were arrested in sit-ins around the country on Thursday, as the protesters used civil disobedience to call attention to their cause.
Organizers said nearly 500 protesters were arrested in three dozen cities — including Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and Little Rock, Ark. All told, the sit-ins took place in about 150 cities nationwide, the organizers said.
In Milwaukee, United States Representative Gwen Moore, Democrat of Wisconsin, was arrested along with several fast-food workers.
“I’m doing this for better pay,” said Crystal Harris, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, minutes before she sat down in the middle of 42nd Street in Manhattan outside a McDonald’s restaurant about 7:30 a.m. on Thursday. “I struggle to make ends meet on $ 7.50 an hour.”
The protesters carried signs saying, “Low Pay Is Not O.K.,” “On Strike to Lift My Family Up,” and “Whatever It Takes: $ 15 and Union Rights.” They also want McDonald’s and other fast-food chains to agree not to fight a unionization drive.
Thursday’s demonstrations were the seventh in a series of one-day strikes by fast-food workers.
Ever since the strikes began in New York in November 2012, strategists have focused on expanding the effort to increase pressure on fast-food chains to set a wage floor of $ 15 an hour.
The Service Employees International Union, which has spent more than $ 10 million underwriting the fast-food movement, sought to add more protesters and decibels to the efforts on Thursday by getting home care aides to join the picket lines for the first time. The S.E.I.U., which represents hundreds of thousands of health care workers and janitors, hopes that the push for $ 15 will help lift the wages of many home care workers and other low-wage health care workers.
“With the integration of home care workers into this effort, this is starting to become a larger low-wage workers’ movement,” said Kendall Fells, organizing director for the movement, known as Fast Food Forward.
Rob Green, executive director of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, was critical of the sit-ins. “Encouraging activities that put both restaurant workers and their customers in danger of physical harm is not only irresponsible, it’s disturbing,” he said in a statement. “Unions are calling it ‘civil disobedience’ when in reality, this choreographed activity is trespassing and it’s illegal.”
McDonald’s issued a statement Thursday morning saying that its restaurants remained open for business. “These are not ‘strikes’ but are staged demonstrations in which people are being transported to fast-food restaurants,” the company said.
It said that it and its franchise operators “support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace.” It added: “We believe that any minimum-wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on owners of small and medium-sized businesses — like the ones who own and operate the majority of our restaurants — is manageable.”
In some restaurants, two workers went on strike for a few hours, in others, 10. The fast-food chains say the one-day strikes have hardly affected business.
Restaurant trade groups have repeatedly denounced the call for a $ 15 hourly wage, saying it would push up menu prices and result in less hiring of fast-food workers, especially entry-level, low-skilled employees. The International Franchise Association says a $ 15 wage would wipe out the profit margins at many fast-food restaurants. Fast-food workers receive an average of about $ 9 an hour.
LaTonya Allen, a home care aide in Atlanta who earns $ 9 an hour, said she was joining a fast-food workers’ protest outside a Burger King on Thursday.
“Earning $ 15 would make a huge difference,” Ms. Allen said. “It would really help me and my husband pay our bills. It would enable us to do more things together as a family. All we do now is work, work, work.”
Home care workers joined the fast-food protests in six cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle.
“We’d like to see these protests by home care workers spread to other cities and states,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the service employees’ union. “We’d like it to get as big as the fast-food protests.”
Ms. Henry said that the one-day strikes had already had some success, drawing attention to the prevalence of low wages and influencing decisions by Seattle to adopt a $ 15-an-hour minimum wage and San Francisco to consider one. In addition, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles this week proposed a $ 13.25-an-hour minimum wage for workers in his city.
Some economists have warned that if wages for home care workers rose to $ 15, the cost for families and taxpayers who finance much of the nation’s home care through Medicaid and Medicare could increase.
NYT > Economy