Workers and activists rallied on the front steps of Orlando's City Hall Thursday, July 23, joining organizers across Florida who showed support for the $15 minimum wage increase in New York.
On Wednesday, a wage panel appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommended the minimum wage be raised for employees of fast-food chain restaurants to $15 an hour. Raises will happen in yearly increments, and by the end of 2018, all workers in New York City should be paid $15, according to the New York Times.
The current minimum wage in New York is $8.75 per hour, $1.50 more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Ever so generous, the state of Florida raised the minimum wage 12 cents in 2015, from $7.93 to its current $8.05.
Integrity Florida, a research and watchdog group, released a report on July 20 dispelling the myth that a higher minimum wage results in job losses. The group compared last year's state job statistics with minimum wage increases and found that every state except West Virginia experienced job growth.
A spokesperson for one of Florida's leading business groups, Florida Retail Federation, told the Tampa Bay Times, "There's only a finite amount of money that a business allocates to salaries. ... I don't understand how you would expect business owners to allocate more money to salaries than they can afford."
During the Orlando rally, Clint Cuyler said he was hired at SeaWorld when he was 16 and was paid $7.10. Now 24, he works at Burger King earning $8.05, and sees people around him working multiple jobs trying to make ends meet.
"We have a system meant to keep low-wage workers where they are at," he says. "Orlando is the epicenter of tourism in the world. We take care of these people, and it's time we get respect."
Nadia Iza, who works at the Osceola Regional Media Center, says that recently a third-party company has taken over the center, slashing benefits and wages for recently hired employees. Iza, who is a member of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, adds that this move has led to older employees feeling insecure about their positions.
"We have to stay in the struggle and not give up," she says in Spanish. "We all deserve the same rights."
Robin Harris, a clergy member at the rally, says she's traveled across the country and seen young black and brown people taking a stand and trying to bring humanity back to working.
"We refuse anything less than $15," she told the crowd. "We will not be sharecroppers any [longer]. ... We want what's rightfully ours."
Former Orange County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Carlos Guillermo Smith (he resigned from the position on July 20 to focus on his run for Florida House District 49; he will be replaced by Aug. 17) says he will be doing the minimum wage challenge in the coming weeks. The test challenges people to live on $77 for a week, which is the average budget of a worker making $7.25 an hour for food, transportation and personal expenses, not including bills.
"We need a living wage," he told the crowd. "Now is the time for the state of Florida to do this."