Tens of thousands of low-wage workers flood the streets demanding higher pay

Fast food workers, Uber drivers, childcare providers, home health aides, airport workers, healthcare employees, and adjunct protested on Tuesday.

A protester getting arrested in New York on Tuesday.
A protester getting arrested in New York on Tuesday.

Starting in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, a flood of low-wage workers joined the pouring rain on the streets of New York City, marking four years to the day since fast food employees first went on a day-long strike in the city and launched a movement.

The movement, which now calls itself the Fight for 15, is demanding a minimum wage of at least $15 as well as the right to unionize. And Tuesday’s day of action proved just how massive it has now become. Strikes and protests weren’t limited to New York City — they reached 340 cities. Fast food workers were joined by a variety of low-paid people, including childcare providers, home health aides, airport workers, healthcare employees, adjunct professors, and, for the first time, Uber drivers.

Uber drivers went on strike in more than two dozen cities. They were joined by striking hospital workers in Pittsburgh as well as a number of fast food employees across the country.

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Many airport workers, including baggage handlers and cabin cleaners, also went on strike for the first time. A group walked off the job at Boston’s Logan International Airport, while more than 500 went on strike at Chicago O’Hare. They were backed up by protests at nearly 20 other major airports.

A number of other workers and supporters were arrested for acts of civil disobedience. In Detroit, Michigan, home care worker Renita Wilson was arrested at 5 a.m. while demanding she be paid $15 an hour, be allowed to join a union, and have access to affordable health insurance with a client she cares for, Carl Watkins, at her side.

Uber drivers, fast food employees, and airport workers were also arrested outside of McDonald’s restaurants in a number of cities, including Cambridge, Chicago, Detroit, and New York City. Organizers said tens of thousands of people joined the protests.

Those arrested included elected officials in New York City, including City Council Members Brad Lander, Mark Levine, and Antonio Reynoso, as well as State Assemblymember Francisco Moya. They joined protesters who sat in the street on Broadway in the financial district at 7 a.m. and refused to leave. Ahead of his arrest, Moya called the Fight for 15 “a cause worth getting arrested for.” Chicago County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was also arrested with workers in his city.

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Beyond their economic demands, the workers and protesters vowed to oppose police killings of people of color and any efforts to deport immigrants or gut healthcare.

The demand for a $15 minimum wage has had surprising success since the Fight for 15 began making it. Two states have passed legislation to raise their wages that high, as have a number of cities. And according to the National Employment Law Project, since the Fight for 15 began in 2012, state and local minimum wage increases have boosted pay for 19 million workers by a collective $61.5 billion, two-thirds of which is thanks to the passage of $15 wage laws.