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Florida Democrats talk about living on the minimum wage for a week

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Last week, a number of Democrats in the Florida Legislature took “The Minimum Wage Challenge,” a week-long attempt to live on what a minimum wage worker earns and endures to show empathy and solidarity with the Fight for 15 movement.

That’s the effort led  by the Service Employees International Union in Florida to have fast-food workers, daycare and home health care workers and adjunct professors get a raise to $15 an hour. Miami Democrat Dwight Bullard in the Senate (SB 6) and Orlando Democrat Victor Torres (HB 109) have filed legislation to raise the current minimum wage of $8.05 an hour in Florida to $15, but it’s not expected to get any traction under the GOP-led Legislature.

“It makes you really appreciate the financial position that you’re in now,  as opposed to the plight that too many Floridians (have) living on minimum wage, ” said Bullard, who was participating in the challenge for the third straight year. He says he’ll keep on doing it until the state hikes up the minimum wage.

“The challenge I met with all my heart,” said Rep. Torres, who thanked some minimum wage workers who were on the call. “The message has to be sent out there, and we need to get everybody’s sponsorship on the House bill, and I’m honored to be with Sen Bullard, fighting the fight.”

“This movement is inspiring on its own,” said Clint Cuyler, an Orlando area fast-food worker. “For our legislators to take the time out and walk a day and a week in our shoes, is what this campaign needed to keep the ball rolling, and to continue to make progress.”

Although as many as 18 such Democrats were scheduled to participate, not all did. SEIU officials hosting a conference call late Tuesday afternoon said that there will be two other weeks coming up in which they can engage in the challenge if they so desire.

“I do know that there were some people who signed up for the challenge who just felt it too difficult and didn’t complete, but they did sign up to participate,” said Orlando Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson.

No Republicans took up the challenge, which Sen. Bullard said was very disappointing, considering how many of their constituents are struggling financially.

“It’s important for you to understand the everyday part of your constituency,” he said. “And so it was my hope that there be more Republicans to stepping up to the challenge.”

Bullard added that he hoped some GOP members of the Legislature could participate in the upcoming minimum wage challenge weeks, which will start on October 12 and October 26.

A Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday night showed that 54 percent of all Republican voters support raising the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. Only 26 percent support keeping it where it is right now.

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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