Fast-food workers suing Memphis, claiming illegal police surveillance, harassment

Memphis fast-food workers supporting the Fight for $15 movement in November 2015.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis fast-food workers say Memphis Police intimidated them and used illegal surveillance to try to stop them in their fight for $15 an hour.

The Mid-South Organizing Committee, which represents the workers in the Fight for $15, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the City of Memphis.

It claims MPD “engaged in a pattern and practice of various intimidation tactics aimed at discouraging [workers] from engaging in protected free speech activities.”

The tactics the lawsuit lists include following organizers home, telling workers not to sign petitions, threatening arrest, selectively enforcing permit requirements, requiring organizers to be escorted when at City Hall and spreading disparaging information about the wage campaign.

The lawsuit said the harassment has gone on for two-and-a-half years, since Memphis fast-food workers joined a nationwide protest for higher fast-food wages.

The city said it has not yet been served but is aware of the suit and believes it has no merit.

Edie Love, a leader with Standing Up For Racial Justice Memphis, said MPD’s actions in regards to the protesters are racially motivated.

“The City of Memphis is declaring war on its lowest-paid workers, most of whom are black. It’s a strategy ripped from the playbook of Bull Connor and J. Edgar Hoover. It appears Memphis and its police department are still stuck in the days of Jim Crow.”

Jerry Martin, an attorney for the Mid-South Organizing Committee, focused on the workers’ constitutional right to free speech.

“We’ve read about such behavior in history books, but unfortunately, in Memphis, intimidation and harassment of protesters is not just a thing of the past.”

Workers are staying determined and loyal to their cause.

“They’re trying to stop us from speaking out, but even though it’s riskier, we know we have a right to protest and we’re not going to be intimidated,” said Ashley Cathey, who works for Church’s Chicken and is part of the Fight for $15 National Organizing Committee. “Our fight for $15 is changing the country, and it’s the Memphis Police Department that’s going to have to change along with it.”

Read the lawsuit