A crowd of low-wage workers crowded into Tampa’s Lykes Gaslight Park on Tuesday afternoon to join the nationwide “Fight for 15” protest, calling for a $15 minimum wage and a union.
Workers in 270 cities across the country (and more than 20 in Florida) were expected to walk out in what organizers hoped would be be the fast food industry’s largest strike ever. The movement during the past year has expanded beyond fast-food workers to include home health care workers, child care employees and adjunct professors.
“If you need 15 say yeah!” belted out organizer Bleu Reiner in getting the festivities started in Tampa.
“Y’all gotta tell Mayor Bob Buckhorn that I’m over here causin’ trouble again,” declared St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice when she hit the stage.
Rice proudly boasted that just a few hours earlier, the Pinellas County Commission had just passed a wage theft ordinance. “That’s our victory!” she proclaimed, giving credit to her city of St. Pete for being the first local government to pass such a law in the Tampa Bay area. She went on to say that one of the reasons that wage theft ordinances are so important is that with the lack of protections for some workers, “It doesn’t matter how much we raise the minimum wage if there’s no protections if someone doesn’t pay you the minimum wage.”
An adjunct professor at USF who only gave his first name as Greg criticized the vast pay discrepancy between instructors like himself and USF President Judy Genshaft.
“I’m an adjunct, right? So I’m just a dime a dozen according to the universities, they just see us as replaceable. I’m expendable,” he said.
“You’re not just fighting for $15 an hour, which you should have had long ago,” said Richard Wolff, an economics professor and radio show host (his program is carried locally by WMNF) who was scheduled to speak Tuesday night in St. Petersburg. “What you’re doing is showing all of us in this country what it means to no longer take it, to stand up and say you’ve had it with what they’ve done, and that you’re making a change.”
Wolff went on to say that the Fight for 15 movement is “the next step” after the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements for progressives. “You’re the ones who are making other people realize that others like you can get together across this country and change what’s going on. It is a time for change.”
“I know what it’s like to live paycheck to almost-paycheck and I’m reminded of that when I took that challenge,” said Hillsborough County school teacher Naze Sahebzamani, a Democrat running in the House District 59 primary, with the winner to face GOP incumbent Russ Spano next year. “Our government leaders can make that change (raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour), but we’re the ones who have to hold them accountable for it – not only for their actions, but their inactions.”
Although there are proposals both in Congress and in the Florida Legislature to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the prospects of passage in the next year look dubious at best. But a year from the general election, organizers say that the movement is only getting bigger, and that change will come for them in 2016.