Miami-Dade County

Hundreds gather in Miami ‘Fight for $15’ rally

Rita Breus and Ebeline Miteyer hold signs in support of raising the minimum wage at a rally at Greater Bethel AMF Church in Overtown, Miami, April 15, 2015.
Rita Breus and Ebeline Miteyer hold signs in support of raising the minimum wage at a rally at Greater Bethel AMF Church in Overtown, Miami, April 15, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Fast food workers, nannies, caregivers and scores of low-wage workers and their supporters marched through downtown Miami Wednesday as part of a national union-led movement for better wages.

The rally, one of hundreds organized in cities around the U.S., drew hundreds to Greater Bethel AME in Overtown, a community simmering with frustration over poverty, crime and gentrification. The large black, Hatian, white and Hispanic crowd boomed out “Yes we can” and “Si se puede” as pastors and activists called for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and ripped politicians, developers and corporations.

“We’re here tonight because we’re tired of living in a city and county where poverty flourishes, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” Bishop James Adams, an Overtown pastor with a growing political profile, said as people raised from wooden pews and cheered. “We’re saying enough is enough.”

Afterward, the crowd spilled out onto Second Avenue and marched south. Miami Herald news partner WLRN reported that protesters stopped in front of a downtown McDonald’s to demand higher wages and delivered a letter to a Marriott, which is planting a flag in Overtown.

Speakers inside the church used lingering resentment of an $88 million tax rebate subsidy package for the mega-development Miami WorldCenter to stoke the crowd. The deal, approved in December by Miami commissioners, has been criticized for giving too much to the developer without securing enough in wage and local jobs commitments.

“It’s an injustice when buildings under construction in this neighborhood won’t have anyone from here living in them,” said Overtown activist Irby McKnight.

Wednesday’s protest and march was part of the Fight for $15 campaign by the Service Employees International Union, which began two years ago in New York as a push to raise fast food wages and grew into a social justice movement representing broader demographics. In press releases, SEIU said the gatherings were “the most widespread mobilization ever by U.S. workers seeking higher pay.”

The union has held up San Francisco and Seattle — cities that recently moved to create a $15 minimum wage — as evidence that their goal is attainable and reasonable. In Florida, the minimum wage is $8.05 an hour.

The rallies were held Wednesday because it was the deadline to file income taxes, which SEIU said only reminded many workers of their poverty and their reliance on public assistance to get by. Molita Cunningham, 56, said she’s worked as a nurse’s assistant and home caregiver for more than 30 years and still needs help from the government.

Speaking to the audience at Greater Bethel AME, she said she deserves a living wage.

“With $15 an hour I can pay my rent,” she said, followed by a reference to the Black Lives Matter protests. “I can breathe with $15.”

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