On April 15 in Tampa, after a full day of events, five hundred people marched from Copeland Park to McDonald’s and Burger King on Fowler Ave to demand a $15 minimum wage and a union for low wage workers. As part of the Fight for 15 national day of action, activists stopped West-bound traffic on Fowler for twenty five minutes chanting “We are the workers, the mighty, mighty workers,” and “15 and a union! 15 and a union!” Liberation spoke to participants to learn more about the low wage workers struggle.

Maria Jose Hays, who came with the local Florida Public Services Union from St. Pete, explained the significance of the action and why people have taken to the streets.

“Today is an important day because it’s the National Day of Action, meaning that all across America workers have decided to make a national day of strike, so we’re talking about healthcare workers, childcare workers, fast food workers, adjunct professors, pretty much workers that are underpaid and overworked and underdeserved in our society that are making less than $15 an hour,” Hays told Liberation.

“We hope that this is just the start of a bigger movement,” she said. “We’re just trying to garner support from the public, from the community. They need to realize that it’s a disservice to themselves and the workers to allow them to be paid at poverty wages. If this economy is supposed to be a consumer economy, then they’re on the wrong track because we have no money to consume with. There’s just no way you can consume if you can barely have food on your table and you don’t have money to pay the rent. So it’s really important that people realize that it’s not just these workers that are suffering, but our economy suffers because of it. And so do everyday people. We pay, as taxpayers, for corporate welfare, billions of dollars each year to keep people at poverty wages and it’s ridiculous. We can’t take it anymore. And 15 is just a starting point.”

Megan Flocken, a member of Graduate Assistants United, the union representing all the graduate assistants on USF campus, talked about bridging the divide between academic workers and the other sectors of labor in Tampa. She also explained the importance of belonging to a union.

“We’re here in solidarity with the labor of Tampa Bay because we find that so much of the time academics are considered as though we have a different lot than retail and fast food and home healthcare workers, but actually we are in the same kind of wage bracket,” said Flocken. “We’re still working full time jobs and unable to pay our bills, we’re incredibly overworked and underpaid, and we at the University of South Florida are fortunate enough to be able to have a union. We’re unionized so that we can band together and ask for pay increases and demand certain kinds of leave packages and demand certain kinds of healthcare benefits. But unfortunately there’s a lot of our brothers and sisters in the labor sector that don’t have that
kind of representation. I’d like to say that this is a good sign of the growing labor coalition of Tampa Bay, rather than the divide and conquer strategy of the media and bosses, who try to pan these different segments of the economy against each other, saying you should be making more than that person or because you have this education you deserve to be making more than that person. We want to bracket all that conversation and say it doesn’t even matter, we’re all not making a livable wage.”

Anne Buckner, a homecare worker for five years, told Liberation why she supports the national movement and what it means to work and live earning less than $15 an hour.

“I take care of the elderly, I give them baths, I take them to the grocery store and doctor, light housekeeping, shave them, I’m a companion with them,” said Buckner. “The reason why I’m here is because I want more than $15 an hour, but $15 is a start right now. That’s why I’m out here fighting, because I don’t have any retirement, no sick leave, no benefits, no vacations, no nothing. I don’t have a life because I work like 120
hours, I work for seven different agencies in order to make end’s meet. I’m just single by myself and have to do this. Because you don’t make enough and then they cut you when you get so many hours so I have to work so many jobs in order to make end’s meet. It’s rough because I have no life. I can’t go to church, I can’t go out and enjoy myself, I barely sleep. I just come out of the hospital. It’s a lot of stress. I like what I do. I’ve been told why don’t you leave that field, but why should I have to leave the field I like doing and go somewhere else? Keeping a roof over my head and paying my bills has been the most stressful thing.”

Cynthia, a certified nursing assistant at Century Health of Tampa and an avid SEIU 1199 member since 2000, spoke about why she deserves more than she is currently making and why she supports Fight for 15.

“This is to support getting better benefits, better wages for our fellow man. I’m always out. I’m always coming out to help anybody that’s involved. We all got to pull together because we all are union. And if we don’t stick together then nobody else is going to do it for us. That’s why I’m here, to give my support and get right in the groove with everybody else,” she said.

“We deserve higher wages because we do a lot of work. We work hard. We get the abuse, we get everything that the patients give us, we have to take that. We work with all walks of life. We deserve to make a little more than we’ve been making. It’s ridiculous the pay that they give us. Some of us can’t even take care of our families on the salary that they give. I love what I do, I’ve been doing it for 20 years. I enjoy taking care of the elderly, that’s my passion, that’s my calling. But right now it’s stressful. You have your typical bills, rent, car payment, phone, lights cable, and if you’re just working to pay bills, you’re not able to take vacations, to spend time with your family like you want because you’re always having to work. And when Christmas time comes you can’t give your children this and that because you ain’t got the money. It’s a struggle. You don’t make enough money to live.”

Jon-Paul Rosa, a 31-year-old veteran and member of Awake Pinellas, told Liberation about the struggle he faces trying to find work after serving in the military and how it has illuminated the injustices of our present economy.

“I don’t think that a lot of people who are working full time should be working poor. That’s why I’m out here,” said Rosa. “I’m a former soldier. I served four years in the military, came out and was looking for a job. And regardless of my experience and what I was doing and my veteran experience, it was still hard to get one without a college degree or without other credentials. To me it feels like a good ol’ boy system, where if you don’t have an uncle or someone working there, then it’s hard to actually break into this. And people really have to get two jobs to live a comfortable life. It doesn’t seem right. This isn’t what I served for. Instead of trying to make a difference overseas like that, we might as well come here and try to make a difference here. That’s how I got involved in this.”

Marquell Kleckley got involved for the first time on the national day of action after Fight for 15 organizers promoted the movement at his job. He spoke to Liberation about the struggles he sees his coworkers going through and why he came out to the action.

“I feel like fast food workers are overworked and it would be nice to get a better pay for all the work we go through. The price of everything else is steadily going up except our pay. We’re not getting paid more. And we deserve it and it’s our right. My friends and coworkers tell me about their child support issues, they’re working multiple jobs, they have to get up early for their shifts. These companies are stingy and want to keep all the money for themselves. It’s an egotistical thing. The CEOs and stuff like that,” said Kleckley.

Krown Deon, a rap artist in Tampa who produced and performed a song specifically for Fight for 15, explained how his experiences have led him to emphasize the connection between low wages, mass incarceration and police brutality.

“It’s a Fight for 15 and my aspect of that comes from a street point of view,” said Deon. “If you don’t have a living wage and you can’t work for a living or support your family the way that most people want to or do, then you end up in the streets. And if you in the streets, then the crime rate go up. We’re not talking about one individual, we’re talking about many individuals who don’t have the means to that rightful job or rightful wage. Alright, so once crime rate goes up, then they justify a lot of the police injustices like the murders, the shootings in the backs, even just patrolling, community policing, they justify it all by funding the police department. When all we simply need is a fair wage. I was in the streets myself, I sold plenty of drugs myself, and most of it wasn’t because I didn’t want to work, it was always because people work for four or five years and find yourself still getting the same amount of money. So you have to do something. So that helped me send my three kids to college. It’s about seeing the fruit of our labor. Look at the sacrifices we have to make. It shouldn’t be like that.”