They pour your coffee, count your change and park your car — but Miami’s low-paid workers say they aren’t making enough money to support themselves and their families.
About 200 peopled gathered outside County Hall in downtown Miami Tuesday night as part of a national day of action calling for politicians to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Workers from the fast-food, healthcare, airport and childcare industries joined in. Similar events took place throughout the day in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando and about 270 other cities nationwide, according to the Service Employees International Union, which organized the rallies.
Thousands of workers around the country took part, flexing their political muscles with a presidential election on the horizon. The campaign has been dubbed the “Fight for 15” by the union.
“I can barely pay my bills,” said Angela Smith, a dining hall worker at the University of Miami who attended the rally and wants to start her own hair salon. “If I made more, it would help me save money to start a business instead of living paycheck to paycheck.”
$8.05 Florida’s minimum wage for 2015
In South Florida, the day of action kicked off at 6 a.m. when more than 40 fast-food workers and home healthcare aides went on strike for an hour outside the McDonald’s near Miami Dade College’s Wolfson campus, a union spokeswoman said.
Florida’s minimum wage stands at $8.05 per hour, up 12 cents from last year and slightly higher than the federal minimum of $7.25. But that’s still not enough, according to workers at the rally.
“I work to pay my bills, pay my rent, pay my insurance,” said Feimin Gomez, a security guard in South Beach. “I don’t have money for anything else after that.”
Research by the United Way of Miami-Dade found that half of local families don’t make enough to pay for basic needs such as housing, child care, healthcare and transportation. The impact is particularly painful for children: About 30 percent of local preschoolers live in poverty, according to a report from Miami-Dade County.
Ken Russell, who recently won a preliminary election for a seat on the Miami City Commission, attended the event and told a reporter that “working people should be able to afford to live here.”
But he would not commit to introducing legislation at the city level to raise the minimum wage to $15. “It’s a major issue. It’s something I’ll be looking at for sure,” he said.
While the U.S. economy is growing, wages haven’t kept up, said Ali Bustamante, a professor at Florida International University’s Center for Labor Research & Studies.
“Here in South Florida, we have the even greater challenge of having an insane housing market where it’s very difficult to rent or buy an affordable home,” said Bustamante, who added that higher pay would allow poor workers to spend more and boost the overall economy.
South Florida’s economy is dependent on the low-wage industries of tourism, hospitality and construction. More than one in three private-sector employees in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties work in those fields, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Waiters and waitresses make a median hourly wage of $9.07, the state found; retail salespeople make $9.82 per hour; home health aides get $10.62.
State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, is pushing a bill in the statehouse that would raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15, although it seems unlikely to gain traction in Republican-dominated Tallahassee.
“It’s stagnant right now,” said Bullard, who spoke at the rally. “The leadership does not have an appetite for that kind of legislation.”
Cities around the country including Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco have agreed to gradually raise their minimum wage to $15. New York City will do the same with fast-food workers. Some business leaders in those cities have criticized the wage hikes, saying they will lead to higher prices for consumers.
But for some Miami residents without a job, there’s barely any point looking for work with wages where they are today.
“Any job I could get wouldn’t pay enough,” said Mia Dennis, who’s raising six kids with her husband, a handyman, in Little Haiti. “I’d be working all those hours and it wouldn’t be enough to take care of my children.”