Fight for $15 in Gainesville, Florida

More than 100 people gathered on Nov. 10 to join a national solidarity action with workers in the fast food and service sectors who are demanding $15 and Union Rights. Photo by Justin Dunnavant.

More than 100 people gathered on Nov. 10 to join a national solidarity action with workers in the fast food and service sectors who are demanding $15 and Union Rights. Photo by Justin Dunnavant.

by Paul Ortiz and Sheila Payne
Alachua County Labor Coalition

The Fight for $15 Movement took a major step forward on Nov. 10 in Gainesville.

More than 100 people gathered to join a national solidarity action with workers in the fast food and service sectors who are demanding “$15 & Union Rights.”

Gathering at the corner of the University of Florida, spirited groups of living wage activists chanted: “Hold the Burgers, Hold the Fries, Make our Wages Supersize!” and “We Work, We Sweat, Put $15 dollars in our Check.”

Members of Alachua County Labor Coalition, National Women’s Liberation, Gainesville Veterans For Peace, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville waved placards, banners, and passed out “15 Reasons to Support $15” to people who stopped to talk.

The action featured speakers from a broad array of organizations including churches, student groups, unions, local politicians who support $15/hour, and civil rights organizations.

Each speaker emphasized that we are living in a new era of politics where living wages and economic justice must be at the center of our struggles and voting choices. Income inequality in Florida is at an all-time high, and we are no longer going to accept a situation where a few people at the top — the 1 percent — live off of the sweat and labor of the rest of society.

James Ingle, speaking on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, talked about how labor solidarity means more than just supporting unions — it means supporting all workers, whether or not they are in a union, because “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Rev. Kevin Thorpe, representing the ACTION Network, pointed to the University of Florida and reminded his listeners that UF receives hundreds of millions in federal grants per year from the taxpayers. It is university staff labor that makes these grants possible, and yet Gainesville remains a city of a few rich people and many living in poverty.

Speaker after speaker dismantled stereotypes about the impact of improving wages in today’s economy.

Raising wages will boost local consumer purchasing power. This will benefit small proprietors who will in turn be able to hire more workers to serve customers in retail, restaurants and other businesses.

The speeches were punctuated by spontaneous chants and shouts of support from people passing by in cars and bicycles.

Educators, including college professors and graduate instructors emphasized that getting an education is no longer sufficient for achieving economic security in the United States. There are growing legions of STEM PhD’s working for poverty wages as adjunct lecturers in the United States.

Aggressive university administrators are steadily dismantling tenure and job security for the nation’s most highly educated workers. Dan Harmeling, a longtime adjunct lecturer at Santa Fe College emphasized that his fellow instructors lack access to health care coverage and sick days — at the nation’s number one ranked community college! This is why so many college faculty are organizing unions and engaging in old-fashioned labor activism.

Local politicians and political candidates were well represented at the rally. Each of these representatives and candidates voiced strong support for a living wage of $15 an hour for workers in Gainesville and Alachua County. This is a testament to the power of the local movement, spearheaded by the Alachua County Labor Coalition (ACLC) which has been working for months with county commissioners to raise wages for the county’s lowest-paid workers.

The Living Wage task force is now meeting with city commissioners and those running for office for city and county seats to ask them where they stand on the issue of a living wage.

The ACLC has made it clear that a true living wage, not a kind of just over the poverty line-wage, is a non-negotiable demand — a new political litmus test for politicians — in a county plagued by the worst rates of economic inequality in Florida.

The national Fight for $15 event was designed to demand action from Presidential candidates as well as lawmakers in all levels of government.

This is a movement that has caught fire across the country. Cities and counties throughout the United States have passed new living wage ordinances in response to a rising tide of protests, union organizing campaigns, and direct action.

San Antonio, Texas recently approved raising minimum wages for municipal workers to $13 per hour, while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Wage Board has set a new wage floor of $15 per hour by the end of 2018 in New York City.

Our action culminated with a spirited march to the McDonald’s on 13th Avenue. The Gainesville Police Department was waiting for us. We attempted to engage in a dialogue with the five managers who came to the front of the store, but they insisted that they were not interested in hearing anything we had to say. Meanwhile, Rev. Dr. Maureen Killoran, from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, talked about the dignity of all labor and said a prayer for workers in an industry marked by low wages and abuses.

This was one day in the life of a deeply rooted social movement in Gainesville and the United States. We were excited at the great turnout and the powerful solidarity of the day. However, we know that we have a long road yet to travel. Please contact the Alachua County Labor Coalition to get involved in the struggle for living wages and economic justice! D

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