Striking Fast Food Workers Arrested in Phoenix Amid Large Police Presence

Four protesters were arrested today in Phoenix at a rally focused on unionizing fast food workers and raising their wages.

The two women and two men were charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing a thoroughfare, and failure to obey a police officer. All of the charges are misdemeanors.

See also: -Phoenix McDonald's Workers Rally for Higher Wages, Better Working Conditions

Two of the arrested demonstrators were striking fast food workers, and two were their supporters.

They were four of more than 100 demonstrators gathered at the McDonald's at 24th Street and Van Buren Street this afternoon. Many of the demonstrators were fast food workers on strike from their jobs, while others were supporters of the fast food unionization movement.

Victor Aronow, an observer with the National Lawyers Guild's Central Arizona Chapter, said he didn't observe anything that appeared illegal in this afternoon's arrests. He noted that both demonstrators and officers appeared calm throughout.

Today's event followed similar early-morning gatherings in Phoenix and Tucson, though demonstrators this afternoon said the police presence at earlier events was not nearly as large.

At this afternoon's event, there were at least 30 police officers, both uniformed and in plainclothes, present in at least a dozen vehicles.

Today's protest began around noon. Demonstrators gathered at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades across the street from the McDonald's before marching down Van Buren Street and around the corner onto 24th Street, where they stopped traffic. Police initially barricaded the block of 24th Street between Van Buren Street and Washington Street and allowed the protesters to march.

As they marched, the group chanted, "Keep the burger, keep the fries, make our wages super-sized" and "Hey hey, ho ho, low wage has got to go."

After 20 or so minutes, police began insisting that everyone take to the sidewalks. The four arrested demonstrators sat on the ground at the sidewalk's edge and locked arms, while the rest of the crowd cleared the street.

Police were initially spread out around the perimeter of the McDonald's, but later gathered in a large group on 24th Street near Washington. A few officers came and talked quietly with the seated protesters, apparently warning them to clear the street yet again. The group remained seated, and those officers returned to the larger group of police.

After a few minutes, at least a dozen officers from the large group marched toward the demonstrators, and the four seated protesters were arrested. The crowd of demonstrators chanted the arrested protesters' names as they were searched and loaded into a police vehicle. Several demonstrators said they planned to head to the jail in order to be with the four upon their release.

After the arrests, the police presence drastically reduced, with only a few plainclothes officers walking among the group.

Today's demonstration came as part of a national movement to unionize fast food workers and demand a living wage of at least $15 per hour. Locally, the campaign is known as Arizona Fight for 15. Workers walked out on fast food jobs nationally today, notably just a few days after Labor Day.

Autumn O'Donnell, a Jack In The Box worker in Tucson, decided to strike today. She came up to Phoenix after attending the morning protest in Tucson. "We're trying to increase not just fast food wages, but minimum wages in general," she told a group of reporters.

O'Donnell said she makes $7.90 per hour, the state's minimum wage. She said she doesn't qualify for welfare or food stamps, but can't afford to put her young child in daycare on her wage. As a result, she's been forced to work nights, relying on her family to care for her baby as he sleeps and she works.

O'Donnell said fast food's corporate employees "go home with thousands of dollars a week. We go home with pennies."

"I'm not asking to be able to own a BMW or a Mercedes," she said, "but to pay rent at the end of the month."

"We shouldn't have to live a limited life. We shouldn't have to think that we always deserve less," said Martha Rodriguez, another worker at today's event.

One reporter asked O'Donnell why fast food workers should be compensated similarly to people who have made the effort to go to college in search of a better job. O'Donnell said she is currently enrolling in school. "This isn't my career path, but people don't realize this is not just teenagers anymore. Go inside, it's people my age," she said. O'Donnell is 25.

The workers had political support today.

Congressman Raul Grijalva, who was with striking Tucson workers this morning, addressed the Phoenix crowd prior to the arrests. Grijalva said he sees the issue as "the ability and right to organize and choose who should represent them for wages, benefits, and working conditions. That's the case being made today."

Grijalva said workers should not have to live from one paycheck to the next, and should not have to go without health insurance.

Former state Senator Steve Gallardo was also present. "They deserve a raise to $15 an hour," he said. "That's what we're here for."

The McDonald's corporation could not be immediately reached for comment.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ashley Cusick.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Ashley Cusick on Twitter at @AshleyBCusick.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ashley Cusick
Contact: Ashley Cusick