SEIU Florida joins Working People in the Fight for a More Equal and Economically Just Florida
Tampa, FL — Healthcare workers, educators, and other Florida workers joined SEIU Florida this week to submit their top economic priorities for the state’s upcoming constitution revision. This constitution review could not come at a better time as people from Pensacola to Miami have lost faith in the ability of state leadership to address the real needs of working people. They are extremely burdened by housing costs and face continuing cuts to public education, disappearing access to quality healthcare, vast income inequality, and antiquated laws that criminalize poverty - all structural issues they want to see addressed in the Florida constitution.
The five working people who submitted proposals join thousands of Floridians - who have also made their own priorities known - in submitting their proposals for the Constitution Revision Commission’s (CRC) consideration before it selects proposals to put on the ballot for voters in November 2018 - a process that hasn’t happened since 1998. The deadline to submit proposals was Friday.
“Next year, Floridians have an opportunity to create a constitution for our state that works for them,” said Monica Russo, President of SEIU Florida. “As we spoke to workers across the state we saw a lot of their needs were aligned: a higher minimum wage, addressing unaffordability of housing, real affordable healthcare, and a better justice system. We can accomplish all of this to usher in a better Florida for the next generation.”
Every 20 years, Florida enters a new cycle to update its constitution to reflect the structural needs of its residents. In anticipation of the constitutional revision process, carried out by the CRC, SEIU Florida spoke with working people across the state to discuss what issues they are facing in their communities. Those conversations brought together working people to submit their proposals. Some of the proposals included the following:
Dedicating Resources to address the Affordable Housing Crisis
For the last several years, the Governor and Legislature have raided the statutorily-created affordable housing trust fund and used the $1.3 billion it has accumulated since the Great Recession to give incentives to out of state businesses that don’t create a single high-paying job, among other things. All Floridians should have access to housing they can afford, because they can’t afford elected leaders continuing to ignore the problem. Ena Muños, a domestic worker from Miami, submitted a proposal, requesting the CRC consider putting language on the ballot to cement the trust fund in the constitution and require money it accumulates to be spent on housing affordability.
“We have an opportunity in our state to set a standard of living for the next several decades and that must include housing affordability. Cities like Miami, Tampa, and Orlando have seen a rise in housing costs that has far exceeded the growth of wages and salaries in those same areas. Rewriting the constitution to require our leaders to take this issue seriously and stop taking away affordable housing funds can ensure generations to come can continue to thrive and live in the same communities they were raised in,” Ena Muños said.
End the Criminalization of Poverty for Legally-Innocent People Awaiting Trial
Our system of requiring money as bail means that many legally-innocent people sit in jail until their court date for the crime of being poor. People who sit in jail are under an immense amount of pressure to take a plea bargain, even in their innocence, so they can go home and continue to work and take care of their families. This plays out even for relatively small amounts of bail, which are impossible to meet for an individual living paycheck to paycheck. Further exacerbating this fundamental violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, is the fact that it costs local governments millions of dollars to house individuals who pose no threat to the public. Roderick Kemp from Ft. Lauderdale, FL is a realtor, community advocate and formerly jailed resident who submitted a proposal requesting the CRC to stop criminalizing those unable to afford the cost of bail. SEIU and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida fully support his proposal to reform Florida’s money bail system that penalizes the poor and privileges the wealthy.
“Often times, people who work hard and still live in poverty get the short end of the stick. They may face an injustice and before they can even get their right to a fair trial, they sit in jail for months because they can’t afford bail. We must do better as a state to level the playing field for the rich and the poor, especially as it relates to their freedom” said Roderick Kemp.
Paid Sick Leave and Eliminating Poverty Wages
Florida’s current minimum wage is a poverty wage. At $8.10 an hour, you would need to work nearly 70 hours a week to be at the poverty line for a family of four. In addition, Floridians are forced to go to work when they are sick as there is no requirement for employers to provide paid sick leave. Thomas Evans from Orlando, FL is a fast food worker. He submitted his proposal, requesting the CRC to set a wage standard that grows with inflation and require businesses to provide paid time off for workers who get sick.
“Every year, prices go up but our pay stays the same. We work hard to help our employers be successful, but we don't share in that success. If you work 40 hours a week, you shouldn’t live in poverty - and that is what many of us are doing. And when we get sick on the job, we can’t afford to call out because paid sick leave isn’t required. In order to create a better Florida, we have to include a $15/hour minimum wage as a starting point, and paid leave when you or your immediate family is sick,” said Thomas Evans.
Fully Fund Free Public Education for Our Children
As our communities have grown, and the need for public education has followed, we have seen a intentional decrease in proper funding for our children. The next constitution must include a provision to set a minimum standard to fully fund public education. Beth McGarry from Vero Beach, FL is an adjunct professor who submitted a proposal, requesting the CRC to consider creating a standard for high quality, fully funded public K-20 education for our state’s students, including vocational training.
“The fact that a fully funded public education system was not already included in our state’s constitution was a surprise to me. This seems like a minimum standard we should have as a state. If we are going to fully realize our students and our state’s potential, we have to ensure we are providing adequate education and vocational training for our children,” said Beth McGarry.
Saving Access to Quality and Affordable Healthcare
Access to quality and truly affordable healthcare is a basic human right, and the Florida constitution should reflect that. Helen Kirton, a healthcare worker from Tampa, FL submitted a proposal requesting the CRC to include the minimum rights we need for healthcare in our state.
“No one should have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping their family healthy. And yet, that is the decision so many Floridians are faced with throughout the year as healthcare costs rise and the right to coverage doesn’t follow. Setting standards in our constitution is a way to ensure quality healthcare doesn’t run hardworking families into bankruptcy if someone gets sick or has an accident,” said Helen Kirton.
SEIU Florida represents over 55,000 active and retired healthcare professionals, public employees, and property service workers in the state of Florida. SEIU members provide vital public services in Florida’s hospitals, nursing homes, public schools, community colleges, municipal and county governments, malls, and universities. With over 2.1 million members, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America.