Watch CBS News

Fast Food Workers Rally For Higher Wages In NYC

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Protesters swarmed Columbus Circle and shut down roads Wednesday afternoon, in a call for a higher minimum wage this Tax Day.

But some New Yorkers -- including Alec Baldwin -- did not approve of the group's tactics and used choice words to say as much.

As CBS2's Valerie Castro reported, protests have been going on all day in a nationwide demonstration calling for a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The protest has been dubbed the Fight for $15 campaign.

Fast food workers, health care workers and labor union representatives gathered at Columbus Circle. The Hotel Trades Council was addressing the crowd early Wednesday evening.

PHOTOS: Rally To Raise Minimum Wage

Fast Food Workers Rally For Higher Wages

Many people said the current minimum wage of $8.75 an hour isn't enough to get by.

"Just in New York alone we can't afford to live here off of those starvation wages," one man told 1010 WINS' Holli Haerr.

Several streets were shut down for the protest, causing traffic backups and delays for drivers around the city.

As CBS2's Weijia Jiang reported, actor Baldwin was not pleased Wednesday evening and said he supports the cause, but not the chaos. He said he could not get his car across the street.

"When the Occupy Wall Street people did this, the cops beat the hell out of them," actor Alec Baldwin said, "I'm just stunned that these people think that the way to gain the support of New Yorkers is to gum up the streets this way."

Other New Yorkers didn't mind.

"They've tried other things before, but protests always get people to look at you," one woman said.

Earlier in the day, more than 100 chanting protesters holding signs with messages like ``We See Greed'' gathered outside a McDonald's around noon, prompting the store to lock its doors to prevent the crowd from taking over the store.

Demonstrators laid on the sidewalk to stage a "die-in,'' which became popular during the "Black Lives Matter'' protests after recent police shootings of black men. Several wore hooded sweatshirts that said "I Can't Breathe,'' a nod to Eric Garner, who died of an apparent police chokehold.

Fast Food Workers Rally For Higher Wages In NYC

"They're literally killing us, this is what happens to us and our families because they don't want to pay us minimum wage," a protester on the Upper West Side told 1010 WINS' Al Jones.

"We're not going to stop until we're heard, until we win," said Beth Schaeffer, who says she works two jobs and still has to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

Home health care worker Theresita Carter of Far Rockaway, Queens said she is barely able to make ends meet.

"It's very hard, because everything is going up. Our rates are staying the same," Carter told WCBS 880's Jim Smith. "I cannot make it on $10 no more. It's not enough money."

Rebecca Cornick works at a Wendy's in Brooklyn, and said making $15 an hour would make a huge difference.

"Make it possible for me to pay my rent; for me to put food on my table," she said.

Timothy Roach, a 21-year-old Wendy's worker from Milwaukee who traveled to New York for the protests, said the police brutality black men face is linked to how they're viewed by employers and the lack of economic opportunity they're given. He said the protests were important to send a message to the people in charge at companies like McDonald's.

``If they don't see that it matters to us, then it won't matter to them,'' Roach said.

The Fight for $15 campaign is being spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union and began in late 2012. Since then, organizers have used the spotlight to rally workers in a variety of fields, with adjunct professors being the most recent to join in Wednesday.

The protests have gained momentum as President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers seek to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Kendall Fells, organizing director for Fight for $15 and an SEIU employee, said McDonald's remains a focus of the protests and that the company's recently announced pay bump shows fast-food workers already have a de facto union.

``It shows the workers are winning,'' he said.

Earlier, Chopper2 was over Downtown Brooklyn where a group of workers took to the streets Wednesday morning.

Fast food rally in downtown Brooklyn
(Credit: Chopper2)

Protesters late Wednesday afternoon were heading to Times Square.

McDonald's earlier this month said it would raise its starting salary to $1 above the local minimum wage, and give workers the ability to accrue paid time off. It marked the first national pay policy by McDonald's, and indicates the company wants to take control of its image as an employer more than two years after the protests began. But the move only applies to workers at company-owned stores, which account for about 10 percent of more than 14,300 locations.

That means McDonald's is digging in its heels over a central issue for labor organizers: Whether it has the power to set wages at franchised restaurants.

McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's say they don't control the employment decisions at franchised restaurants. The SEIU wants to change that and hold McDonald's responsible for labor conditions at franchised restaurants in multiple ways, including lawsuits.

In a statement, McDonald's said it respects the right to ``peacefully protest'' and that its restaurants will remain open Wednesday. In the past, it said only about 10 to 15 McDonald's workers out of about 800,000 have participated.

In a recent column in The Chicago Tribune, McDonald's chief executive officer Steve Easterbrook described the company's pay hike and other perks as ``an initial step,'' and said he wants to transform McDonald's into a ``modern, progressive burger company.''

Fast Food Workers Rally For Higher Wages

But that transformation will have to take place as labor organizers continue rallying public support for low-wage workers. Ahead of the protests this week, a study funded by the SEIU found working families rely on $153 billion in public assistance a year as a result of their low wages.

Last year, more than a dozen states and multiple cities raised their minimum wages, according to the National Employment Law Project. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has also been targeted with protests for higher wages and better treatment for workers, recently announced pay hikes as well.

Robert Reich, former Labor secretary and a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said stagnating wages for lower-income workers are helping change negative attitudes about unions.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.