Demonstrators seeking higher fast-food wages were cited for blocking cars on Charleston's Spring Street Thursday in a show of civil disobedience that also played out in other American cities.
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Spring Street was back open midafternoon after Charleston police ticketed at least 18 demonstrators for disorderly conduct in connection with the gathering, according to organizers. The protestor's want at least a $15 an hour wage from fast-food companies.
Demonstrators were seen sitting in the street while holding signs near the Septima P. Clark Parkway, also known as the Crosstown. Demonstrations also were scheduled at the Taco Bell on James Island and at the KFC and Taco Bell on Spring Street on the peninsula.
Organizers said they planned to engage in nonviolent protest, which could lead to arrests and draw more attention to their cause. The protests were expected to take place at fast-food restaurants in 150 cities nationwide, including Detroit, Chicago and New York.
"I have four reasons to do whatever it takes to win $15 an hour and union rights: Cherish, Treasure, Promise and Maziha - my daughters," Charleston McDonald's employee Cherri Delesline said in a statement provided by protest organizers.
Delesline has worked for the restaurant for 10 years and was one of those cited in the day's demonstration, the statement said.
"I am leading the fight for $15 in Charleston because I refuse to allow the cycle of worker exploitation to continue," she said. "If we stand together and fight now our children and our children's children will have better opportunities."
The "Fight for $15" campaign, which is backed financially by the Service Employees International Union and others, has gained national attention at a time when the wage gap between the poor and the rich has become a hot political issue. President Barack Obama mentioned the campaign at a Labor Day appearance in Milwaukee.
"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," Obama said, as he pushed Congress to raise the minimum wage. "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," he said.
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.
The protests have been going on for about two years, but organizers have kept the campaign in the spotlight by switching their tactics every few months. In the past, supporters have shown up at a McDonald's shareholder meeting and held strikes. The idea of civil disobedience arose in July when 1,300 workers held a convention in Chicago.
Kendall Fells, an organizing director for Fast Food Forward, declined to say what exactly was in store for the protests, other than workers in a couple of dozen cities were trained to peacefully engage in civil disobedience ahead of time.
But workers involved in the movement recently cited sit-ins as an example of strategies they could use to intensify their push for higher pay and unionization.
Past protests have targeted a couple of restaurants in each city for a limited time, in many cases posing little disruption to operations.
The National Restaurant Association said in a statement that the protests are an attempt by unions to "boost their dwindling membership."
The Post and Courier and Candice Choi of the AP contributed to this report.