About two dozen people were arrested Thursday after they blocked traffic in downtown Durham, calling for a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers.
They sat in busy intersections and forced some drivers to turn around.
More than 100 fast-food workers – a few walking out of work – gathered to join the national protest called the “Fight for 15.” Protests, supported by the Service Employees International Union and other groups, were expected in about 150 cities.
They came to Durham from McDonald’s, Burger King, Bojangles’, KFC and other fast-food restaurants in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte.
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They shouted, “We can’t survive off 7.25!”
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Tina Watson, a manager at a McDonald’s in New Zealand, flew 13 hours from her country to help support those in the United States. She said the minimum wage in New Zealand is $14.25 an hour.
“We don’t want them to struggle,” said Watson, 44. “We want them to be able to support their families. Some have three jobs just to support them and have no time for family life.”
The Rev. William Barber II, president of the state NAACP, encouraged the protesters to demonstrate peacefully. He said the average fast-food worker makes $8.60 an hour, and that 52 percent of fast-food workers are on some form of financial assistance.
“These are workers, folk doing hard work,” Barber said. “They are not asking to not work hard. They are asking to be paid a living wage so they can have health insurance, take care of their family, pay the rent.”
As protesters sat in the middle of the intersection of Morgan Street and Rigsbee Avenue, police initially blocked off surrounding streets so cars couldn’t interrupt.
“This is ridiculous,” said Rodney Dunevant, manager of Mr. Tires Auto Centers. “The police should have ended this a long time ago.”
Dunevant said customers who needed to pick up their cars could not get to the shop.
“They can’t because of this riffraff in the middle of the road,” he said. “We are losing business big time.”
After three hours, about 50 police officers with batons joined 20 officers already on the scene and warned protesters to move or be arrested. After five minutes, none sitting on the street left, and they were arrested.
“The nature of the protest dictates our response,” Capt. Brian Reitz said.
After the arrests, the other protesters marched to the jail to show their solidarity.