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Nearly two dozen arrested in Ybor City as hundreds protest minimum wages across Tampa Bay

Marchers from the organization Fight for 15 peacefully stand on the sidewalk following a police dispersal order Tuesday during a rally in Ybor City. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
Published Nov. 30, 2016

TAMPA — Nearly two dozen protesters seeking a $15 an hour minimum wage were arrested on Tuesday night after sitting in the middle of N 21st Street in Ybor City.

They were among several hundred people who showed up for a rally and march from Centennial Park, down the middle of E 7th Avenue to N 22nd Street and a McDonald's.

"Tell me what Democracy looks like," someone called out, a drum beating in the background.

"This is what Democracy looks like," came the response, over and over, as they received a warning from police.

Similar scenes played out in hundreds of cities across the nation Tuesday as fast-food workers, health care providers, airport workers, child care providers, Uber drivers and more joined the "day of disruption," organized by the Service Employees International Union to draw attention to their "Fight for $15" campaign.

It's the fourth year of the campaign.

The protesters descended in waves on the Tampa Bay area, first with a 6 a.m. walk-out strike at a McDonald's on E Hillsborough Avenue followed by a noon press conference at St. Petersburg's City Hall.

Tuesday night in Ybor City, Tampa police lined the streets as protesters conducted their march.

After the group rounded the McDonald's, though, banging snare drums and chanting rhymes like "We work, we sweat, put $15 in our check," some stopped and sat in the middle of N 21st Street, near the Interstate-4 exit.

Police gave multiple warnings, in Spanish and English, that doing so would be an unlawful act of protests, but no one in the group took them up on offers to let them leave without incident.

Lt. Michael Stout of the Tampa Police Department told them the assembly had been declared unlawful.

"At this time," he called out, "consider yourself under arrest for refusing to disperse. Please do not resist arrest ... or significant injury may occur."

After about a 15 minute standoff, around 6:30 p.m., the 23 protesters were arrested without incident.

Commissioner Pat Kemp and State Rep. Sean Shaw joined in the march to McDonald's, along with Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights activists. Tuesday was the first event launched by the Fight for $15 campaign since Donald Trump won the presidential election.

Organizers billed the day of events, planned in 340 cities, as the largest and most disruptive protest yet.

"It's more important than ever to fight because we have a lot more on our shoulders these days, don't we," Shaw told the crowd. "But we are not going to allow them to tear us apart by race, sex, class or any other labels because we're going to fight together."

Preschool teacher Pavonne Scott, 37, has taught music classes and worked in childcare in Tampa for 18 years. It's her passion, she says, but the job barely allows her to afford rent and groceries. She has no money for a car. Scott was emotional as she watched the protesters hold their wrists out to Tampa police to be cuffed. One of them was her roommate, she said.

"People are willing to support this to the end. It's so touching," she said. "We're paying out of our own pocketbooks to do what we love, and we deserve more."

Hundreds of workers at some of the nation's largest airports, including Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, were on strike. Tampa Bay airports were unaffected,

Standing at a podium fashioned to look like the number 15, Jayson James told the crowd outside St. Petersburg City Hall earlier in the day that he was part of the third generation of his family to live and work in the city. Starting in the 1920s, James' family worked in hotels. They were never paid enough, he said.

Some there held signs calling Trump "Not My President" while others held banners that said "Black Lives Matter." The signs also called for "15 + the union," or said "we can't survive on $8.05."

Tampa fast-food worker Bleu Rainer said if Trump doesn't support of $15 minimum wage, he should step aside and let the country decide.

"And if we don't get it," he called to the crowd in a protest chant, to which they responded, "shut it down."

Other than Tampa, McDonald's workers in cities across Florida, including Orlando and Miami, gathered in the streets with signs. Briefly on Tuesday morning, about 50 protesters blocked the drive-thru at the Tampa McDonald's.

In St. Petersburg, City Council members Darden Rice, Karl Nurse and Amy Foster pledged their support.

"We have got to get the political will to work locally on policies that get at structural poverty, that get at structural racism," Rice said. "We must continue to educate people on the connection between racial justice and economic justice."

St. Pete Council member Darden Rice talks to the crowd about racism, wages at #Fightfor15 rally. @TB_Times pic.twitter.com/RK6BIKeTHN

The airport workers who have joined the protest don't work for any specific airline. They are baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and plane cabin cleaners who are employed by local airports. These workers have been trying to unionize across the country without much success.

The Fight for $15 disruption day comes just a day after German airliner Lufthansa pilots went on strike to rally for better wages, which did not affect the direct flight from Frankfurt to Tampa, a spokesman said.

"We work, we sweat, put 15 on our checks," group chants as they leave City Hall's steps. @TB_Times #Fightfor15 pic.twitter.com/Bxe4KAeSHy

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