A major victory for Gainesville city workers

by Jeremiah Tattersall

As of Jan. 1, all City of Gainesville workers are being paid at least $12.25 an hour.

This is a major victory for working people and a great step toward a living wage for all workers.

This comes on the heels of the Alachua County Commission’s Minimum Wage Ordinance in 2015, which ensures that all County workers and contractors are paid at least $12.50 an hour with employer provided health care (another $1.98/hr. is added to the pay if healthcare is not provided).

In addition, this past year Alachua County Library District,  the school board and a number of private companies took steps toward a living wage for their workers.

Establishing the Gainesville living wage faced many difficulties. In 2015, then-Mayor Braddy directed staff to analyze costs associated with various living wage plans. Last September, the Commission, led by Mayor Poe, approved a budget that added over $300,000 to bring the City’s  workforce pay to $12.25 an hour.

It seemed the November vote was all but a formality. but it turned sour. Questions swirled about which workers deserved a living wage and which ones didn’t.

Do lifeguards, temp workers, and crossing guards deserve to earn enough to live on their earnings? The meeting ended with the commission voting for just full-time, regular workers to receive the raise, leaving out two-thirds of those making less than $12.25 an hour.

The vote to increase all workers’ pay failed 2-5, with the only Mayor Poe and Commissioner Hayes-Santos voting in favor. After receiving angry comments, the commission moved to gather more information and revisit the topic in December.

For the following month, the Alachua County Labor Coalition’s living wage supporters lobbied, rallied, wrote letters, made phone calls, and changed the conversation.

The Coalition sent postcards to all the workers whose raises were passed up in November, and many of them reached out to the commission in anger.

At a rally before the December vote, a contingent of crossing guards came in uniform to advocate for their raise. Other workers, being afraid of reprisal, passed letters to the Coalition to read on their behalf.

Our message was simple: All work is dignified and all workers deserve a living wage.

After hours of testimony, the commission voted 5-2 to increase minimum pay for all workers to $12.25 an hour with Commissioners Budd and Chase voting against the motion.

This complete reversal from November was made possible by organizers, activists, and workers who refused to leave anyone behind. The work was messy, frustrating, and often discouraging but it’s the hard, honest work that that put over $350,000 into the pockets of 150-low paid City workers.

More importantly, though, through every step the Alachua County Labor Coalition strengthened its foundation and grew the movement. This year the Coalition will be continuing the push for City and County workers but will also be shifting focus to the University of Florida and Santa Fe College. These recalcitrant employers are going to be difficult to budge, but as our 2016 victories have proved, anything is possible with organizing. D

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