Laura Pierre is an eighteen-year-old high school graduate who now works full time at a Miami Chipotle. Yesterday, she gathered with dozens of other fast-food, airport, and home-care workers with a simple demand for local politicians: minimum wages to match the $15 an hour that New York's wage board recommended for its fast food workers on Wednesday.
"I know that if it gets raised to $15, my life will change," Pierre says. "Since I graduated high school, I haven't been able to start college because I work full time. I need to pay for school myself, so I'm trying to save but it's really difficult when I have to pay rent, and the light bill and the phone bill, and other expenses. This doesn't just affect people with families and children. I’m 18 years old, and I'm struggling."
Pierre is just one of the many that say they would benefit from a wage increase. Local McDonald's worker Laura Rollins makes $8.45 an hour though she's worked for the fast food mega chain for almost six years. "When I say I live paycheck to paycheck, I literally do," Rollins says. "I can't make any plans or promises till I see my paycheck, but I have to make it work."
Rollins says more people need to stand up and demand better wages without being afraid of management, even though fast food chains have been among the harshest critics of New York's move. Dunkin' Donuts, for instance, blasted the decision yesterday.
"If people here pulled together, we would be able to get our wage increase, too," Rollins says. "But everyone is so afraid of taking a stand and losing their job. They have the right to take a stand and protest to make their lives better. I just want to try to get people to understand that there's nothing to be afraid of."
Minimum wage rallies were also held yesterday in Fort Lauderdale, the Bay Area, Orlando and across the country. Florida State Legislators including Miami-Dade Commissioner Danielle Cava, Representative Dwight Dudley, and State Senator Dwight Bullard support a wage increase and have committed to live on the current federal minimum wage for five days beginning on Labor Day to support the push. They would like to see their colleagues do the same.
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Though $15 was a distant dream just a few years ago, it is now the reality in cities like Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. New York's Fight for $15 started in 2012, and Florida workers believe that the recent victory could lead to new wage standards in Florida and beyond.
"We all want the same thing: to be heard," Rollins says. "We all want a better life and better wages to take care of our families and homes. You just can’t do that if you’re not making money. My fight isn't just for me. It's for my kids and my grandkids too."
Pierre is optimistic that the wage will one day be increased but just doesn't know when.
"I know it will take time, but I think we're close," Pierre said. "New York shows were close. If they can do it, why can't we? We're not going to stop until we get there."