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Dwight Dudley leads call for $15 minimum wage in Florida at St. Pete rally

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The years-long “Fight for $15” for fast-food workers received a huge boost earlier this week after New York officials recommended lifting pay for thousands of fast-food workers throughout the state.  Meanwhile, here in Florida, Miami Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard filed a bill (SB 6) this week that would raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In St. Petersburg, about 20 activists gathered in front of City Hall to seize on the momentum from the New York announcement to call for the same thing here in the Sunshine State.

“If Governor (Andrew) Cuomo can do it, what’s to stop Rick Scott from doing it?” asked activist and fast-food worker Bleu Rainer.

The Fight for $15 movement in Florida has been led by labor unions, primarily the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1099. Sade Reed is a healthcare worker. She said that the $4.03 hourly minimum wage in 1973 in Florida has more purchasing power than Florida’s current minimum wage of $8.05.

“What $15 an hour would mean for me is being able to provide more for me and my daughter,” she said. “It would be a relief not just to survive, but to live.”

In Washington, independent Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders introduced a bill that would raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. On Wednesday, Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison said he would propose a similar bill in the House.

“Florida’s $8.05 minimum wage means that a minimum wage worker in Florida earns $322 a week,” said Laila Abdelaziz, legislative and government affairs director from CAIR-Florida. “That’s $16,744 a year. This yearly income places a family of three well below the official poverty line.”

Bullard filed a similar measure during the past two sessions in Tallahassee to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but it was never taken up in committee.

Citing a report from Integrity Florida released earlier this week that refuted reports that rising wages would kill jobs (but it also said it wasn’t clear that it created them, either), St. Petersburg House Democrat Dwight Dudley told the crowd that the “proof was in — 25 states that increased the minimum wage and gave a living wage, only one state did not improve its economy…. This is something that we have to do.”

After the rally, though, Dudley admitted that in the GOP-controlled Legislature, the proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 faces long odds. “It’s a tough landscape to navigate, no doubt, because there is such resistance,” he said.

“The governor likes to talk about ‘let’s get back to work.’ Well, let’s get back to work for a fair wage to be able to afford health care, to be able to afford the necessities of life. That’s what this virtuous battle is all about. Even though the powers that be are well stocked against this effort, you’ve got to begin the battle somewhere and initiate, and that’s what’s happening here today.”

Similar rallies organized by the SEIU were held in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando today as well.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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