- Good Jobs Seattle
- Burger King worker Jason is led away by police from wage theft picket outside downtown Seattle McDonald's.
Well, somebody finally got arrested over complaints of criminal wage theft at Seattle fast food restaurants, only it wasn't the employers accused of stealing wages by refusing to pay for mandatory overtime. Eight fast food workers and community activists forced police to the haul them away by refusing to disperse from a sit-down picket in front of a McDonald's franchise at 3rd and Pike in downtown Seattle.
Critics who scoff at the nationwide string of one-day fast food strikes as quixotic, and who dismiss demands for a $15 an hour minimum as unrealistic, shouldn't be so quick to write it off. The strike has spread to dozens of cities since starting in New York eight months ago, and has succeeded in sparking a national conversation about living wages and the lack thereof—indeed, it's become the central issue of Seattle's mayor's race. The fast food strike is arguably the most successful public protest movement since Occupy Wallstreet, from which it surely draws a ton of inspiration.
Unlike Occupy, though, the fast food strike is backing up grassroots fervor with the organizational experience and resources of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), lending a more focused and disciplined message to the effort. It's an interesting choice for SEIU, as this isn't a traditional organizing campaign. In fact SEIU Healthcare 775 president David Rolf, whose local has been instrumental in the Seattle fast food strike, freely acknowledges that the combination of labor laws and the franchised nature of the industry may make a traditional fast food workers union impossible. The fast food strike is breaking new ground for organized labor, and they are willing to improvise as the events unfold.
As for yesterday's arrests, it's an indication of the courage of the protestors, as well as the passion with which the strike's participants approach their cause. It's one thing to hide behind bandanas while hurling rocks, as in this year's May Day melee. It's another thing to stand your ground and demand arrest. This sort of civil disobedience certainly isn't new, but it's heartening to see this renewed embrace of the tactic.