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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Local workers rally to fight for $15 minimum wage

<p>Frank Blankenship, the 63-year-old founder of MindFreedom Florida, protests for a $15 minimum wage at the corner of West University Avenue and 13th Street on Nov. 10, 2015. There were 60 people protesting, including local politicians, student group representatives, local faith leaders and Santa Fe College faculty.</p>

Frank Blankenship, the 63-year-old founder of MindFreedom Florida, protests for a $15 minimum wage at the corner of West University Avenue and 13th Street on Nov. 10, 2015. There were 60 people protesting, including local politicians, student group representatives, local faith leaders and Santa Fe College faculty.

About 50 local workers gathered at the corner of West University Avenue and 13th Street on Tuesday to rally for higher wages.

At the Fight for $15 Day of Action in Gainesville, which also took place in cities across the country, protesters held signs that demanded "Low Pay is Not Okay" and "Low Pay + Low Wages = Poverty." Local leaders also joined the rally, giving speeches and leading chants with a megaphone.

Speakers included County Commissioner Ken Cornell, Gainesville mayoral candidate Lauren Poe and worker’s rights activist Jeremiah Tattersall, among others.

Low-wage workers such as fast-food workers, graduate assistants and Santa Fe College and UF professors gathered together to fight for their right to $15 an hour — which they said is a living wage. Members of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, UF’s Graduate Assistants United and the UF Radical Student Alliance also attended.

In his speech, Poe said the fight is about more than what people make in their paychecks. It’s much bigger than that, he said.

"It’s about social and economic equity," he said in an interview after his speech. "Gainesville is an economically divided city, and it’s not something we can just wish our way out of. We have to take action."

The Fight for $15 is a good first step in the right direction, he said. He said a $15 minimum wage won’t get workers even halfway to where they need to be, but it is a realistic goal for now.

Shortly after the speeches, the protesters walked to the McDonald’s on Northeast 13th Street to continue the rally there. They continued chanting outside the restaurant and then tried to enter, but they were met with four police officers and employees telling them to leave unless they were customers.

Outside the store, 23-year-old Michael Jorell Reyes continued to stand on the sidewalk in protest.

Reyes, a UF engineering junior who is also in the UF Radical Student Alliance, said he is the first person in his family to attend a university. To support him and his sister, his mother works paycheck to paycheck at two different jobs.

Reyes said he tried to work a fast-food job to help with the bills, but with school it was just too much. It’s a struggle to afford food, rent, school supplies and other expenses, he said.

"I would sacrifice studying time to work if it was worth it," he said. "But at such low wages, it still wasn’t enough and now I’m still trying to catch up on lectures."

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Contact Brooke Baitinger at bbaitinger@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @baitingerbrooke

Frank Blankenship, the 63-year-old founder of MindFreedom Florida, protests for a $15 minimum wage at the corner of West University Avenue and 13th Street on Nov. 10, 2015. There were 60 people protesting, including local politicians, student group representatives, local faith leaders and Santa Fe College faculty.

Faith Bennett, a 23-year-old UF history student, protests for a $15 minimum wage at the corner of West University Avenue and 13th Street on Nov. 10, 2015. The Fight for $15 Day of Action took place in Gcities around the U.S.

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