Spurred on by organized labor, a campaign to drive up the wages for fast-food workers spread locally and across the country last year.
That campaign is now encompassing other low-income industries. Last week a group of adjunct professors held a protest on the USF campus in Tampa calling for higher wages, and now the movement is spreading to home health-care workers.
“I think it’s just time for a change,” says Reuben Masas, a home health-care worker employed at BAYADA located in South Tampa. “Even the agencies don’t offer us health care, overtime, no paid vacation, no sick days. Nothing.”
“I love doing what I do,” adds Ann Buckner, who says she works an astounding 196 hours every two weeks, marketing her services through five different agencies. “You go into (patients) homes. They expect you to do more than take care of them,” she adds.
Masas and Buckner were panelists in the first part of an hour-long discussion/revival meeting that took place Wednesday night at the Seminole Heights Public Library in Tampa. The effort to try to drive up wages higher for home health-care workers is being spurred nationally and in Florida by the Service Employees International Union.
Monica Russo, president of SEIU Florida State Council & executive vice president of 1199 SEIU, made an appearance, entering to wild applause.
“This isn’t a moment. This is about building a movement,” she announced. She called the issue of trying to raise the wages of such hard-working employees an “incredibly challenging issue of injustice.”
“How many want to have what they’re calling the silver tsunami of incredibly rapid growth of an aging population in our country and here in our state?” she asked. “These are our elders. These are our parents. And we’re not going to pay those and treat those who care for our loved ones? We’re not going to treat them with dignity and respect with a decent wage? With all this money in this economy?”
Wednesday night’s event in Tampa was one of more than two dozen similar events being held this winter in cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Washington, D.C. Among the notables to be speaking at the Washington event will be Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who has been supportive of the effort. Other Democrats like former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Illinois U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Miami Gardens U.S. Rep. Fredericka Wilson are scheduled to speak in their respective cities’ events.
In Tampa, Tampa City Council members Lisa Monteleone and Yolie Capin and Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin all showed up.
“I want to thank you all for being there and fighting for what you so rightly deserve,” said Monteleone, who began her comments by speaking about the exemplary care home health care workers provided her mother in Connecticut two years ago when she was fatally ill. The councilwoman bemoaned the fact that she had no control over how much the workers could get paid, but said she could champion their cause, so she was. “It takes all of us together to make change.”
The Washington Post reported last year that the SEIU, along with other unions and advocates, has had some success in this campaign. Washington State recently signed a contract to raise wages to more than $14 an hour, while Illinois’ contract had raised the average to $13. Montana and North Dakota also have earmarked money to raise wages over the past few years. But doing so in Florida is undoubtedly a serious challenge.
“I understand the advantage of colective barganing and collective voices,” said newly re-elected Councilwoman Yolie Capin, who said that her father was a shop steward when she was growing up. “I just want to let you know you’re on the right path….the state of Florida must bring up the wages of the hotel, hospitality and health-care workers.”
The always intense April Griffin said the fight is one worth fighting for. She dropped a little of her personal biography on the crowd that stuffed into the first-floor room inside the recently rebuilt library, talking about how she was a high school dropout who is now just months away from earning a college degree. “I’m a fighter,” she proclaimed. “What I’m saying to you is, if I can do it, you all can do it.”
“You all deserve a living wage because you are caring for people’s lives,” she said. “You are taking care of the least of us in their moment of need, you’re helping families that can’t do it on their own. You all deserve not only the money so you can have a living wage, but the respect and dignity you give your patients every single day. ”
The elected officials and Monica Russo all reminded the audience, most of whom were black or Hispanic, of the importance of voting and electing candidates who represented their beliefs.
“How are you supposed to live on $10 an hour?” Russo questioned. “How are you going to do that? We need to challenge the so-called leaders….we’re going to have to start challenging the leadership to step it up. We have to create our new leadership. Y’all need to think about your leadership.”
The event ended with a call to try to have the workers bring as many people as possible to their next big event in Tampa — a Fight for 15 celebration on April 15, to be held in Copeland Park.