15 Now lays down their goals in St. Petersburg

Last week 15 Now, a grassroots organization originally rooted in Seattle, launched their statewide movement in Orlando.

Saturday in St. Petersburg, 15 Now Tampa Bay held their own press conference in front of City Hall. They propose to recruit, mobilize and take action throughout Florida. They want the St. Pete City Council and the Florida Legislature to support and pass a resolution to repeal 218.077(2), passed in 2003, which denies cities the right to set its own minimum wage. 

Pinellas County has had a home rule charter since 1980, which allows it the ability to address local issues without having to go all the way up the chain to the state Legislature. However, the special statute 218.077(2) states that it is illegal for cities and counties to set their own minimum wage. It also states that employers do not have to provide benefits like paid sick time. The group also wants the City Council to restore home rule. The group believes that the statute is “unconstitutional and immoral.”  

According to the Green Party of Florida, Florida’s own Constitution, Article X, Section 24(a), “promises as public policy that ‘All working Floridians are entitled to be paid a minimum wage that is sufficient to provide a decent and healthy life for them and their families,’ a wage that doesn't ‘force them to rely on taxpayer-funded public services in order to avoid economic hardship,'" says Jeff Roby, 15 Now's community outreach director

Roby urges the community to remember the Civil and women's rights movement of the not so distant past, as well as the present fight to legalize gay marriage. He believes that 15 Now is on the nation's radar, “people know what the 15 stands for,” he says. Led by 15 Now, Seattle won the fight for $15 dollars an hour minimum wage.  The organization was founded by Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.

The group wants people to vote carefully, as Roby mentions the four City Council members who will run for re-election next November: Charles Gerdes, Bill Dudley, Steve Kornell, and Wengay Newton. “The state House and half the state Senate are up in 2016, and that’s sooner than a lot of people think. You reckon minimum wage isn’t going to be on the table in 2016? We say, think again," Roby says.

According to 15 Now, 75 percent of minimum wage workers are twenty or older and 25 percent of them have children and, more than a third are woman. From 1979 to 2011, the amount of these workers possessing some form of college education increased from 19.5 percent  to 33.3 percent. 

They also feel that if multinational corporations like Boeing and Goldman Sachs get handouts, small businesses should receive subsidies to pay their employees $15 an hour. Inflation is not an issue they say, “A 1999 study found that a $1 dollar increase in minimum wage to McDonalds workers would add only 2 cents to the cost of a hamburger.” 

Rose Roby, member of 15 Now, as well as the chair of the St. Pete chapter of the Florida Green Party, made note of last week’s People’s Climate March. 

“Last week, after thousands and thousands of people came out for the People’s Climate March and demanded that we put planet over profits, Yahoo, Google, Yelp and Facebook all severed their ties with ALEC!" she says. "That’s right, major corporations are leaving ALEC in droves, over 90 in the last 2 years, because ALEC is becoming toxic to their brand. These corporations can see the tide is turning even if our politicians do not.”

She also spoke about Maria Fernandes, a young woman who died last month at the age of 32. As a minimum wage worker, Maria had to work four jobs to get by. This afforded her little time to sleep. Rose says that friends of Maria said that she would sleep in her car between jobs. Her passing was a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. She left her car running while she napped, because she was low on gas and didn’t want to run out. 

Jeff and Rose Roby are married. They have spent most of their lives being politically active. Before the recession in 2008, they both had jobs. For two decades Rose worked her way up as an executive assistant, and Jeff was a programmer. When she lost her job in 2008, Rose decided to go back to school for a culinary degree. After two years working in fine dining kitchens under grueling conditions, she decided to return to being politically active. She says she decided to become an advocate for workers. Her experience in NY restaurants made her “painfully aware of the racism, xenophobia and class bias that plagued the industry. “Undocumented immigrants and low wage American born workers should be standing up together against the wage theft, hazardous conditions and substandard wages that restaurant workers are expected to endure day in and day out."

She says that together, united, we are stronger. “I believe we're stronger united and I want to work to bridge that gap and bring our communities together.”

“If there is a lesson learned from what happened in Seattle, it’s that if we build enough of a movement on the ground, to bring pressure to bear on the Legislature, they will react to that pressure," says Christian Brooks, 15 Now's Tampa Bay lead organizer. The City Council in Seattle did not pass the $15 dollar minimum wage out of the kindness of their heart. It was because there was a mass movement and campaign on the street.”


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