NEW YORK - Costumed characters in Times Square took off their masks Tuesday to protest what they call a "hostile move" by New York police telling tourists they don't have to tip the characters for photos.
The giant Elmos, Mickey Mouses and Statues of Liberty proclaimed their right to make money Tuesday.
The mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants have formed a new group called NYC Artists United for a Smile.
They held a news conference to say it's their constitutional right to earn a living entertaining people. The $50 to $70 dollars a day they make is less than minimum wage for shifts of up to 12 hours.
"They want to make sure that when people come to Times Square that they don't view them as, 'Oh my God, they're out to take my money,'" Alex Gomez, a spokesman for La Fuente, a group focused on immigrant workers, told CBS New York. "They're here to make sure... you have the best time possible in Times Square and that you want to come back year after year."
Authorities say some of the characters have attacked tourists or harassed them for not paying.
"I've been out here for 12 years... doing the Big Apple, I've never had one problem with the tourists, but I have had dozens of problems with the NYPD," said Steven Mercier, who dresses as a big apple in yellow shorts and has been arrested by the NYPD in the past.
Last week, the NYPD started distributing leaflets and posting signs telling visitors tipping the costumed characters is optional.