TAMPA — All he wanted Tuesday morning was a bagel and an hour to relax between his classes and shifts at two minimum-wage jobs, but University of South Florida student Casey Hamilton left campus with a new mission.
He and dozens of students outside USF’s Marshall Student Center on the Tampa campus listened to members from Florida’s Fight for $15 movement and the Service Employees International Union recruit people for their cause: unfair pay and treatment of minimum-wage workers.
The collection of professors, graduate students, fast food employees and child and senior care workers that met Tuesday are hoping more people like Hamilton will join them April 15 for a day of strikes and protests billed by organizers as the “largest nation-wide day of action for low-wage workers in modern history.” Organizers of the Fight for $15 movement, which began in November 2012, expect more than 60,000 to participate in the April 15 protests in 200 U.S. cities and 35 countries.
Hamilton, 19, is living at home with his parents in Plant City, filling his free time with minimum-wage jobs at a movie theater and gym, and the occasional stand-up comedy show. The sophomore works just to afford his commute to USF and is hearing more complaints from coworkers in similar situations, he said.
One day, he hopes to be an English professor at USF, though the job’s meager paychecks are a daunting prospect.
“It’s eerie how relevant this is to my life,” Hamilton said. “Hearing this issue from people right at home makes me wonder if this is really what I have to look forward to in the future, but if anything today helped me think that maybe there’s something I can do about it.”
In the Tampa Bay area, the movement has gained some traction.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has raised the salary of lowest paid city employees from the minimum $8.05 an hour to $12.50 an hour, with hopes of increasing to the full $15. In February, adjunct faculty and students filled the USF Marshall Center courtyard for National Adjunct Walk-out Day.
“There are tons of part-time faculty that are working full time hours without full-time benefits because education has become a business just like anywhere else,” said Mark Castricone, an adjunct philosophy professor in the Honor’s College at USF, as well as at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor City campus and Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland.
“The only difference between us and McDonald’s employees is that we’re getting exploited because we love what we do and can’t imagine doing anything else,” Castricone said.
But others, like 26-year-old Bleu Rainer, have to do the job to help the ones they love.
At 15, Rainer began working at McDonalds to help support his mother, another low-wage worker, and his three younger siblings. He currently works three days a week for three hours a day at a McDonalds near the USF campus, which only leaves about $30 for his family after bills.
“This is all I have, this is my future,” Rainer said. “I’m tired of struggling and watching my family struggle.” The Fight for $15 protests will begin 10 a.m. April 15 outside St. Petersburg’s City Hall then move to Tampa’s City Hall, USF and businesses in the afternoon.