State and County Officials Accept Minimum Wage Challenge; Local Candidates Also Step Up

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State Senator Geraldine Thompson (left) and Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph have pledged to take the minimum wage challenge. Candidates Lawanna Gelzer (Orlando City Commission Dist 6) and Aretha Olivarez (Orlando City Commission Dist 4), at right, will also attempt to live on $17 per day. Photos courtesy of candidate campaigns/websites.

Orlando, Fla. – Last month, state Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami), and state Rep. Victor Torres, (D-Orlando), were joined by dozens of underpaid workers and SEIU leaders at a press conference at the Florida State Capitol to push for an increase in the state’s current minimum wage from $8.05 to $15 an hour. Speakers at the event urged all state legislators to support Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 109 and invited them to accept the “Minimum Wage Challenge.”

“I look forward to joining other legislators in the Minimum Wage Challenge so they can understand what it feels like to live on poverty wages in today’s world,” said Sen. Bullard, who announced he will take the challenge set to start next Monday.

Those taking the challenge will have to live on the minimum wage for five days and document their experience on social media showing the hard choices that they’re forced to make each day.

SEIU Florida came out strongly in support of the $15 minimum wage effort on September 9, when it sent a letter to Florida’s elected officials urging them to get behind the wage increase proposal, and announcing that it will exclusively endorse and contribute to those who agree to support the increase and take the challenge.

The SEIU’s challenge was officially launched on September 28th, to highlight the difficulty Florida workers have with living on the present minimum wage.

The challenge is not new. A similar campaign was launched in July, 2014 by a large coalition of national advocacy and research groups. Among them were Americans United for Change and the National Employment Law Project. The weeklong event asked elected officials and members of the public to spend a week living on a $77 budget, representing “the average weekly figure for a minimum wage worker after taxes and housing expenses.

State Senator Geraldine Thompson (left) and Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph have pledged to take the minimum wage challenge.  Candidates Lawanna Gelzer (Orlando City Commission Dist 6) and Aretha Olivarez (Orlando City Commission Dist 4), at right, will also attempt to live on $17 per day.    Photos courtesy of candidate campaigns/websites.
State Senator Geraldine Thompson (left) and Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph have pledged to take the minimum wage challenge. Candidates Lawanna Gelzer (Orlando City Commission Dist 6) and Aretha Olivarez (Orlando City Commission Dist 4), at right, will also attempt to live on $17 per day. Photos courtesy of candidate campaigns/websites.

The SEIU’s challenge revitalizes the effort to once again bring attention to the need to increase the minimum wage despite the contention by some that raising the wage floor will force employers to cut back on jobs. Supporters of this view found support for their position in early 2014, when a Congressional Budget Office report found that an increase of $2.05 per hour, to $10.10 per hour, could possibly result in the loss of up to 500,000 jobs nationwide.

But in July of last year, actual figures released by the Labor Department showed that the 13 states that raised their minimum wages at the beginning of the year saw faster job growth than those that did not. The SEIU is encouraging workers to contact their Florida legislators to urge them to sponsor the $15 minimum wage bills.

A number of Florida legislators and candidates for office have agreed to take the challenge.

Among them are State Senators Dwight Bullard, D-Miami; Jeffrey Clemens, D-Lake Worth; and Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando. State Representatives Victor Torres, D-Orlando; José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami; Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey; John Cortes, D-Kissimmee; Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg; Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens; Sharon Pritchett, D-Miramar;  Darryl Rousson, D-St. Petersburg; Cynthia A. Stafford, D-Opa Locka; David Kerner, D-Palm Springs; Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. No Republican members of the House or Senate have signed on to the challenge as of yet.

At the local level, only Scott Randolph, Orange County Tax Collector, has agreed as of the date of publication, to take the challenge. Candidates Aretha Olivarez (Orlando City Commission Dist 4) and Lawanna Gelzer (Orlando City Commission Dist 6), have also agreed to participate.

According to the SEIU, the challenge will play out as follows:

1. Participants must live on $85 per week or $17 per day for all expenses except housing, car payments, credit card bills & childcare expenses.
2. They must stick to the budget for all other expenses for 5 days.
3. They must announce their participation; go grocery shopping and post a video or photos of the trip to FB or Twitter (spending no more than $17); ride public transportation with a low wage worker; post details about the experience to social media.and challenge 5 other people to take the challenge. Every person challenged has to be tagged.

The proposed increase to $15 per hour is an almost 100 percent increase in the minimum wage. It will not likely happen overnight. The challenge is designed to bring attention to the issue being advanced and the reality of the struggle faced by law-abiding, hard-working Americans every day. If you are interested in taking the challenge, there are two start dates: October 12 and October 26.

The hope clearly seems to be that with understanding will come a change in attitude, and hopefully, a change in the minimum wage.
Maybe someone on the Republican side of the aisle will take a stab at seeing what it’s like to raise a family on $12 to $17 a day.