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Dozens arrested at Chicago-area fast-food protests

About 50 fast-food workers were taken into custody Thursday by Chicago and Cicero police during separate protests demanding a $15-an-hour wage and the right to organize unions—one of many planned demonstrations across the country. 

"I'm just fighting for what's right," said McDonald's worker Damien Mack, 22, as officers led him to a police vehicle.  

The first protest began about 7:30 a.m., and at one point several dozen people began walking down 87th Street, at State Street, between a McDonald's and Burger King. The crowd chanted and sang the song "We Shall Not Be Moved." After about 15 minutes, police ordered the crowd to disperse. When they did not move, many of those who were sitting on the street were taken into police vehicles and told they had violated a city ordinance that requires pedestrians to exercise "due care."

In all, 19 people were taken in to custody.

It was the second time Tyree Johnson, 46, had been taken into custody as part of a protest, he said.

"Piece of cake," he said as police loaded him into a wagon on 87th and State streets. "Twenty-two years working at McDonald's, [I'm] still living in poverty. I won't lose no sleep."

A similar protest unfolded early Thursday afternoon in Cicero. Around lunchtime, protesters began blocking Cicero Avenue near 28th Street in the suburb near a McDonald's. Thirty-one were handcuffed with zip ties during the course of an hour.

Protesters clad in red ponchos looped around the McDonald's, which sits in the corner of a shopping mall. They ended on the street, where they chanted, "Workers united will never be defeated." 

Nationwide, 19 fast-food workers were arrested in New York City; 42 in Detroit; 11 in Little Rock, Ark.; and 10 in Las Vegas were arrested by midday.

The low-wage workers' movement is financed largely by the Service Employees International Union. Fast-food workers in particular have been protesting in Chicago for more than a year.

Mayor Emanuel has promised that he will support raising Chicago's minimum wage to $13 over the next few years. Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), who was at the Chicago protest, has co-sponsored an ordinance that would raise Chicago's wage to $15.

"We need to set our sights higher," he said.

Today's protests marked the first time that home-care workers joined fast-food workers in an effort to raise the minimum wage. Other local groups attended as well, including representatives of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Arise Chicago and Action Now.

"The whole progressive movement is out in full force," said Jacob Swenson-Lengyel of National People's Action. "Civil disobedience has a long history in labor, getting to the heart of labor tactics in the Depression era."

The restaurant lobby has maintained that actions such as Thursday's are "nothing more than labor groups’ self-interested attempts to boost their dwindling membership by targeting restaurant employees," according to a statement last month from Katie Laning Niebaum of the National Restaurant Association.

Tribune contributed.

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