8 protesters arrested at minimum-wage rally in Wilkinsburg
Fast-food workers protesting for higher pay near Pittsburgh and across the country ended up in handcuffs on Thursday during their latest attempt to escalate efforts to get McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food companies to pay employees at least $15 an hour.
Police arrested dozens of protesters at rallies planned for 150 cities, including eight people outside the McDonald's in Wilkinsburg.
About 100 fast-food workers marched to the Penn Avenue fast-food restaurant demanding higher hourly wages and union representation.
“We deserve that,” said Ronald Poole, a protester at the Wilkinsburg McDonald who works at the North Side restaurant.
The protests, part of a campaign called “Fight for $15,” which is backed financially by the Service Employees International Union and others, occur as 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.
Small businesses have said increasing the minimum wage will put pressure on companies operating on thin margins. Higher pay could force some businesses to close, cutting the number of jobs available to low-skill, young employees often hired by fast-food and other companies.
Stephen Herzenberg, an economist and executive director at the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, said it will be “survival of the fittest” for companies forced to pay livable wages.
“In the end, there are going to be some businesses that cannot adapt successfully to paying entry level workers much more,” Herzenberg sad. “But in fact, you want an economy in which the businesses that survive are ones that are efficient enough and well managed enough to pay good wages.”
Seattle recently upped its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York are considering increased wages. Movement on wages in other cities could lead to increased pay in places including Pennsylvania, Herzenberg said. Politicians, unions and CEOs need to be part of the discussion.
The arrests and nonviolent acts of disobedience are making an impact nationwide, said Kyndall Mason, spokeswoman for One Pittsburgh, an economic justice campaign that organized the protest in Wilkinsburg.
“It's changed the entire dialogue for the country,” Mason said. “Every single state surrounding Pennsylvania has already increased their minimum wage.”
West Virginia will increase its minimum wage to $8 at the end of the year; New York will jump to $8.75. Minimum wages in Ohio and New Jersey adjust annually based on inflation.
President Obama mentioned the campaign this week at a Labor Day appearance in Milwaukee, where on Thursday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore was taken away in handcuffs by police for blocking traffic at a McDonald's.
In Wilkinsburg, a magistrate arraigned arrested protesters who will likely face fines for misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly, Wilkinsburg police Chief Ophelia “Cookie” Coleman said.
An SEIU attorney, Mike Healey, is representing the eight people arrested in Wilkinsburg.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Aaron Aupperlee and Tory N. Parrish are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Aupperlee can be reached at 412-320-7986 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Parrish can be reached at 412-380-5662 or email@example.com.