Wage strike ends with protesters cuffed in Lower Manhattan

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Protesters gave new meaning to sitting in traffic on Wednesday afternoon.
Photo by Dean Moses

Fair wage strikers marched through traffic in Lower Manhattan demanding “one fair wage” but the demonstration ended with several protesters getting cuffed Wednesday afternoon.

A fair wage protest saw two individuals arrested after joining about 40 restaurant workers who blocked traffic along 6th Avenue and Bleeker Street on May 26. Their menu of demands included enforcing restaurants to offer a livable wage with tips included before they say they would return to work.

The slogan of the act is fight, don’t starve. Photo by Dean Moses

The rally began just after 12:30 p.m. in Washington Square Park, where advocates and elected officials including NYC Councilmember Brad Lander, New York Senator Brad Holyman, and playwright Eve Ensler stated that the city has a “wage shortage, not a worker shortage.”

According to a report by One Fair Wage, the organizers of the march, “Nine in 10 New York restaurant workers are leaving their jobs due to low wages and tips.” The national nonprofit organization found that half of New York’s restaurant workers are considering leaving the hospitality business since they can’t afford rent or their bills with their meager pay, forcing them to find work elsewhere.

Brad Lander speaks with demonstrators. Photo by Dean Moses

The report also found that women have been found to suffer higher rates of hostility, sexual harassment, and health risks. Female workers at the rally shared that in addition to dealing with unwanted physical contact, some customers have asked them to lower their masks to see if they are attractive enough to get a decent tip.

Council Member Lander declared that while Governor Andrew Cuomo eliminated the subminimum wage for some, he failed to eliminate it for restaurant workers.

“Governor Cuomo you’ve got an opportunity to make it right, you’ve heard about the fact that because of the subminimum wage there is more sexual harassment for restaurant servers than in almost any other part of the economy. You may have heard that Governor Cuomo has some reasons why he might want to be making amends around issues of sexual harassment, as I remember he might have seven reasons around making amends around sexual harassment. Governor Cuomo one good way of starting to make amends on sexual harassment would be to end the subminimum wage and get One Fair Wage for our restaurant workers,” Lander said.

Protesters march out of the park. Photo by Dean Moses
The call for a fair wage was emotional for some. Photo by Dean Moses

After the elected officials took turns speaking, the protesters began chanting, “The workers united will never be defeated,” and “One fair wage,” as they marched out of Washington Square Park and onto the city streets followed closely by NYPD officers.

Marchers held signs stating, “Will Work for Fair Wages” and “Low Wages Stop America’s Recovery,” as they made their way down 6th Avenue. After a short walk, the demonstration halted at an intersection between Downing and Bleeker Streets, where individuals held traffic for about 20 minutes. Placing chairs and tables on the roadway, protesters literally sat in traffic.

“Why are we stopping traffic right now? Because low wages stop America’s recovery,” one demonstrator yelled.

Traffic was blocked on Downing and Bleeker Streets. Photo by Dean Moses
An individual stands on a table and chants.Photo by Dean Moses

The NYPD played a monotone recording demanding the group to leave the street, stating, “This is the New York City Police Department, you are unlawfully in the roadway and obstructing vehicular traffic. You are ordered to leave the roadway and use the available sidewalk, if you do so voluntarily no charges will be placed against you. If you remain in the roadway and refuse to utilize the sidewalk, you will be placed under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct.”

Several of the demonstrators left while two remained at their table.

Officers surround the tables. Photo by Dean Moses
Zip tied Zach Lerner is led away. Photo by Dean Moses

NYPD placed Zach Lerner from New York Communities for Change and Fekkak Mamdouh, Senior Director and Co-Founder of One Fair Wage under arrest, zip-tying their hands and ushering them in the back of a patrol van. The pair chanted “One fair wage!” as they were led away.

Fekkak Mamdouhm glances back between an army of officers. Photo by Dean Moses
Both men were hailed as heroes by fellow protesters. Photo by Dean Moses