The nationwide campaign to raise fast-food workers’ wages to $15 an hour has incorporated child-care workers into the effort.
The campaign is being led nationally and in Florida by the Service Employees International Union.
“We have to share the story to create a groundwell,” said Monica Russo, president of SEIU Florida State Council, and executive vice president of 1199 SEIU. “We’re not going to get $15 and a union unless we fight for $15! This is such a compelling story, and might it light a wave in the ocean; we have got to create waves.”
Russo spoke to a packed room at the Seminole Heights Public Library in Tampa on Tuesday night, filled with child-care workers, as well as other activists and a number of local public officials.
“We do need to raise the minimum wage,” said Democratic state Rep. Ed Narain, who represents Tampa in District 61. Looking out over the crowd of child care workers, Narian said that “Most of you in this room are taking care of the most vulnerable people in our society. You have my commitment that as long as I’m in the state House that I will do everything to make sure that we are going to do more for each and everyone of you standing here in this room today.”
There is a proposal in the Legislature sponsored by Miami Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard (SB 6) this week that would raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. However in the state’s GOP-led Legislature, its prospects aren’t good. “I’ve got 119 counterparts in the House and 40 over in the Senate that we’ve gotta fix,” Narain said, acknowledging the reality on the ground, yet not wanting to diminish the crowd’s energy.
Betty Reed, who held Narain’s house seat before being term-limited last year, is running for the state Senate District 19 seat, where she’s opposed by Democrat Darryl Rouson. She said it was great to see such an enthusiastic crowd, but that those same people must show up on Election Day next year.
Child care workers in the U.S. earn median pay of $9.38 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fortune magazine reports that’s comparable with the earnings of food preparation workers – $9.28 per hour – and retail sales employees – $10.29 per hour.
St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell, who’s facing a re-election challenge this November, told the crowd of child-care workers, “I am you.”
“I’m the only City Council member that started working for $3.65 in an after-school program,” he said. Kornell now works as a social worker in Pinellas County schools. “I get it.”
Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco talked about how wages in the country have been stagnant since the 1970s. He said he couldn’t believe that child-care workers are paid such low wages. “This is a good fight,” he said. “We’re not hard to start trouble … This is America, we expect more in this country. I’m here for you.”
Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin also told the audience she was with them in solidarity, and said that she has fought for higher wages for school employees for “quite some time.”
In July, Democratic U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon introduced a resolution calling for universal affordable child care, a measure that the SEIU supports.