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On Tax Day, Miami Workers Join Largest-Ever Mobilization of Underpaid 4/16/2015

Fight for $15
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Local Groups Join the Fight for 15 to Demand Local Hiring and Living Wages from Publicly Funded Projects

Miami--Fast-food cooks and cashiers walked off their jobs Wednesday morning in Miami and in cities from Pittsburgh to Pasadena, setting off a historic wave of protests for higher pay and the freedom to join unions that stretched across industries and around the globe and inspired college students and #BlackLivesMatter activists to join in. In Miami the Fight for $15 is about keeping tax payer money from being used for huge development projects that displace it's residents and fail to provide good jobs for the community. Multiple community organizations have united around this issue and have now joined the Fight for $15.

Yesterday in Miami hundreds packed the Greater Bethel AME Church in the historic Overtown neighborhood where they listened to inspirational speeches from home care worker Molita Cunningham, fast food worker Laura Rollins and Bishop James Adams of Overtown’s St. John’s Baptist Church.

“I’m a home care worker because it’s my passion, I love what I do,” said Molita Cunningham a 56 year old home care worker from Miami, FL. “But I’m not making enough to pay the bills.  With $15 an hour I can pay my rent, I would finally feel like I could breathe,” Cunningham said as the crowd erupted.

“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, we’re saying enough is enough!"  Bishop Adams said.

After the program the supporters flooded the streets for a one and half mile march through downtown Miami shutting down several intersections. The marchers passed the Miami World Center, a project where developers are seeking $100 million dollars to build the second largest proposed development in the country right next to one of Miami’s most storied and neglected African American communities, Overtown. Many local groups see a path to victory in the Fight for 15 by by taking on often unpopular publicly funded development projects like the Miami World Center. Despite seeking public funds, this project doesn’t guarantee any permanent living wage jobs to any of the local residents. Many community leaders have harnessed their outrage by setting their sights on demanding living wages for all future taxpayer funded projects.

Early Wednesday morning Miami Fast-food workers kicked off the protests by walking off their jobs at a McDonald’s and other major national restaurant chains. Around the country, workers went on strike for the first time in Albany, NY; Asheville, NC; Greenville, MS; Montgomery, Ala.; and San Jose, Calif. The strikes, which started a day earlier in Boston out of deference to the April 15 anniversary of the marathon bombing, came two weeks after McDonald’s announced it was increasing salaries for a fraction of its workforce by $1. But rather than mollifying employees, the paltry pay move inspired even more workers to join the walkout. All across the country, McDonald’s workers joined strike lines, chanting, “Hey McDonald’s Let’s Be Blunt, Your Raise is Just a PR Stunt.”

The protests—the most widespread mobilization ever by U.S. workers seeking higher pay— came just days after Hillary Clinton announced she was running for president promising to confront America’s gaping inequality. The tax day strikes, marches and rallies included walkouts by fast-food workers in 236 U.S. cities, spanned industries from home care to academia, stretched from Tokyo to Sao Paolo— demonstrating the two-and-a-half-year-old Fight For $15 is stronger than ever.

More Than Fast Food
Inspired by cooks and cashiers from restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King, adjunct professors, who are calling for $15,000 per course joined in the protests for the first time, along with home carechild care, airport,industrial laundry and Walmart workers.

“The movement that fast-food cooks and cashiers started has now grown into something much bigger—made up of adjunct professors, home care providers, retail employees, childcare workers, and airport staff—all fighting for a fair shot at a decent life.” said Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union, which has helped support the Fight for $15. "Working people are going to keep speaking out in the streets, in their communities, and at the ballot box until we raise wages, strengthen the economy, and build a democracy that works for all families.”

Home care workers, who joined the Fight for $15 in a handful of cities last year, spread their protests to two-dozen cities Wednesday.  In Atlanta, while fast-food workers went on strike, home care workers launched their own kind of walkout. Since they cannot strike in the same way as fast food workers and wouldn't want to leave their clients without care,  the Atlanta home care workers decided to #take15for15, embarking on 15-minute one and two-person  protests outside their clients’ homes. In many cases, they were joined by their clients.

In New York City, thousands of home care workers wearing white lab coats marched from Columbus Circle to Times Square, boldly announcing their entry into the movement. Caregivers rallied in red states and blue ones, from Los Angeles to Raleigh.

Weeks after they joined the Fight for $15, child care workers in 10 states participated in the protests. Calling for a system that ensures quality, affordable and accessible child care for every American family, workers from California to Connecticut joined the call for $15 and a union.

Airport security guards, cleaners and ramp workers also protested across the country, calling attention to a crisis at America’s airports, where highly profitable airlines have cut wages, often by outsourcing their responsibilities to contractors. While airline fees and profits have soared and taxpayers invest billions to make airports hubs of prosperity, workers are living on the brink, struggling to survive.

For the first time, industrial laundry workers are joining the protests in Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia and Houston.  These nearly 80,000 non-union laundry workers, who clean linens for some of the most luxurious hotels and prestigious hospitals, often work long hours in sweatshop conditions for paltry wages. Also for the first time, Walmart workers joined the Fight for $15 protests. Fresh off of forcing the company to raise pay for half a million workers, Walmart workers across the country hit the streets to show that they will not stop their fight until they get $15.

Tax Day
It isn’t just McDonald’s that is digging into taxpayers’ pockets. The tax day protests, held Wednesday both because the date, 4/15, is the workers’ demand and because they wanted to highlight the fact that they are paid so little that too many are forced to rely on public assistance to get by, came just days after researchers at the University of California-Berkeley released a report showing that persistent low wages are costing taxpayers nearly $153 billion every year in public support to working families.

In Connecticut, a proposal currently moving through the state legislature would fine large companies that pay low wages in an effort to recoup the cost these companies impose on taxpayers. Congressional Democrats’ Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal unveiled last month included a provision that would roll back tax breaks for large companies that fail to raise pay on pace with inflation.

Changing How America Thinks About Wages
What seemed two years ago like a far-fetched goal—$15 an hour—is now not so crazy. In February, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio called for an increase in New York City’s minimum wage to $15 by 2019. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union asked the Board of Education to pay $15 an hour to all workers in schools and in December, Chicago lawmakers voted to raise the minimum wage to $13. In Washington, workers won $15 inSeattle, where Bloomberg News said the city adopted “the rallying cry of fast-food workers,” and in SeaTac, where local low-wage airport workers played a leading role in winning a historic wage increase.

And in November, San Francisco became the third city in the U.S. to adopt a $15 minimum wage. Since the first fast-food strike in 2012, 9 million low-wage workers have gotten raises through local ballot measures, city and state legislation, contract negotiations and employer policy changes—more workers than are in private sector unions in the entire country.

Slate said the Fight for $15, “managed to completely rewire how the public and politicians think about wages;” MSNBC said it, “entirely changed the politics of the country;” and Fortune said it, “transformed labor organizing from a process often centered on nickel-and-dime negotiations with a single employer into a social justice movement that transcends industry and geographic boundaries.

The urgent need for solutions to America’s low-wage crisis is already emerging as a key issue in the run-up to the 2016 election. In The New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote, “[a]s the 2016 presidential campaign begins to stir, the central question will be how both parties respond to the great wage slowdown.” And Democrats and leading economic experts are increasingly looking to restore Americans’ rights to form unions as a way to bring balance back to the economy and create jobs that enable more communities to thrive.

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.