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Minimum wage protest takes to streets

On Tuesday, protesters congregated at Lykes Gaslight Square Park as part of Day of Action to raise the Florida minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

In Florida, the minimum wage is $8.05 an hour while the federal rate rests at $7.25. On Tuesday, however, protesters marched through the streets of downtown Tampa to make a statement about minimum wage and the right to unionize. 

Representatives from the fast food industry, as well as home and childcare workers came out to Day of Action – Tampa Fight for $15, a movement that hopes to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“I’m a low wage worker, I’ve worked for almost four years in the service industry, and you can’t make ends meet with the eight dollars that I make,” Roger Butterfield, a volunteer for the Fight for $15 campaign, said. “Involvement in that (Coalition of Immokalee Workers) helped me to understand some of the problems in my own life as a worker and how I could take action against them.”

Tampa is one of the 500 cities across the country that hosted Day of Action events. The protest started at Lykes Gaslight Square Park before participants marched to the police department.

St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice took the stage before the march began in support of Fight for $15. In her speech, she said wage theft happens far more often — especially in Florida — than people would like to believe and it is the job of cities such as St. Pete to take a stand against it.

Also, she announced the decision by the Pinellas County’s Board of Commissioners to implement a wage theft protection ordinance in an attempt to insure those who are supposed to receive minimum wage actually receive it.

“Due to the either non-existent or (inadequate) state and federal protections,” she said, “it’s only right for cities like St. Pete to step up and implement protections for our working families.” 

As part of the Day of Action protest, low wage workers, including those in fast food, home care, and childcare jobs come out to say enough is enough. ORACLE PHOTO/MIKI SHINE

Rice added that wage staff ordinances are also important because increasing the minimum doesn’t matter if there are no protections against wage theft.

“So it’s the perfect book end policy for protection if we continue to fight for social justice,” she said.

However, Trinity University economist David Macpherson used U.S. Census Bureau data to estimate an increase to $15 would come at the expense of approximately 3,100 jobs. 

Moreover, younger workers and women would get the hardest hit with 40 percent and 55 percent, respectively, according to the National Restaurant Association.

The movement has support from legislators, including President Barack Obama, democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, who supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and Hillary Clinton, who supports raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

“I hope that this struggle doesn’t just stay in the media (as) something that people just talk about, although that’s important,” Butterfield said. “I hope that it comes to people’s workplaces that they try to take it back to that, and that we’re able to build on networks that we make here and with our coworkers — people who haven’t heard of this.  

“The movement needs to grow.”