Massachusetts state Sen. Jamie Eldridge recounted his experience Tuesday getting arrested while protesting for the $15 minimum wage.
The Fight for $15 movement organized the protest as part of a national day of action. Workers and advocates rallied in cities across the country. Eldridge, a Democrat, was invited by movement organizers to participate in the protest and march through Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was one of dozens who got arrested while blocking a street.
“We congregated in front of Cambridge City Hall around quarter to six,” Eldridge told InsideSources. “We began marching at 6:00am down Mass. Ave. towards the McDonald’s. There was a brief speaking program at 6:30am across from the McDonald’s that three or four minimum wage workers, a labor leader and myself spoke at.”
Eldridge added that during the protest he had the chance to speak directly to some low-wage workers. He noted the conversations had a profound impact on him. Many of the protesters told him they had to work several jobs and were still just barely able to support their families.
“It was a very inspiring moment to hear the McDonald’s workers and other minimum wage workers talk about their struggles of trying to provide, take care of their families, working full-time on the minimum wage and the impact a $15 an hour minimum wage increase would have on their lives,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge then joined a few dozen protesters who sat in the street to make a political statement. The police arrived and warned the protesters to move. People have a right to publicly demonstrate but in many cases, reasonable restrictions can be imposed such as needing a permit in order to block a roadway.
“The rest of the activists and minimum wage workers stood on the sidewalk and cheered us on,” Eldridge said. “The police arrived at about 7:00am, informed us that we were disturbing the peace and blocking a public way; asked us to disperse and if we did not disperse we would be arrested.”
Eldridge and the other protesters didn’t move and in response the police arrested them. They were handcuffed and sent to a nearby police station and held for about nine hours. Nevertheless, Eldridge expressed that the police handled the situation very well.
“The Cambridge police were extremely professional and very orderly and after it was clear that none of us were going to leave Mass. Ave. we all stood up and were handcuffed,” Eldridge said. “I was treated the same as everyone else. I don’t represent Cambridge, I have a suburban district so there was no identification of me as an elected official and I appreciated the fact that I was treated the same.”
Eldridge and the other protesters were then put into a common holding cell. Eldridge noted that his time in custody gave him the opportunity to speak with more low-wage workers and activists. He recalled one worker specifically who was struggling to support his family.
“We had a great conversation just literally about the three or four jobs he works at just to take care of his family,” Eldridge said. “They’re really struggling to find little part-time jobs in order to keep their head above water.”
The Cambridge police confirmed to InsideSources that the protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. Protest organizers even warned the police prior to the march that some participants were planning on getting arrested.
Eldridge became involved in the movement this past year during a protest in Boston. He added the earlier protest was the likely reason they asked him to participate in the Cambridge march. He notes that what drew him to the movement was hearing stories from people and wanting to help low-wage workers in the state and across the country.
“I got to meet all these minimum wage workers. That was very powerful,” Eldridge said. “I will say for me it’s about the stories and the interactions I have already had with my constituents.”
Fight for $15 used the national day of action to mark its fourth year anniversary. The movement has been at the forefront of the minimum wage debate since it started in November 2012. It detailed on its website that arrests occurred in New York City, Los Angeles, the Boston area, Detroit and Minneapolis.
The movement is primarily supported by labor unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Through grassroots level organization and national campaigns, it has been able to get dozens of cities and two states to pass the increase.
Those opposed to the policy warn it could actually hurt the very people it’s meant to help. Employers might have to cutback on employees or reduce their hours to overcome the added cost of labor. Eldridge contests it will mostly impact big companies who can afford to pay their employees more.
“I think in the richest country in the world in one of the richest states in the country, it’s just outrageous that people are living in such a limited way,” Eldridge said. “We really have to change that and I think the Fight for $15 is one of the ways we can take hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents out of poverty.”
The National Bureau of Economic Research and The Heritage Foundation found the increase will have a significant impact on employment. They found the risk is especially bad for young and low-skilled workers. The University of California, Berkeley found any losses would be marginal compared to the potential benefits.