West Park, FL — Marking the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s address to striking sanitation workers before his assassination, Father Reginald Jean-Mary of the Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission Church and Rev. Joe Johnson, Senior Pastor of the Greater Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church of Hallandale, rallied with hundreds of low-wage workers to demand that South Florida anchor institutions honor King’s memory by paying workers livable wages. Florida Rises, which includes 10 organizations representing fast-food, Wal-Mart, airport and hospitality workers, echoed the demand that leaders fight South Florida’s income inequality that disproportionately hurts black Caribbean immigrants and African-Americans.
In 1968, King spoke to workers earning what would amount to $12 per hour today accounting for inflation, in sharp contrast to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport workers who today, earn as little as $4.91 per hour if working in a tipped position. These wages are significantly below the poverty level for a family of four and many workers must rely on public programs to get by. The Airport, which is owned by Broward County, is one of the most important economic engines in South Florida. Yet, airlines are using low-bid contractors who routinely cut costs on the backs of employees to increase profits at the top, exacerbating an ever-widening income gap.
“Fort Lauderdale Airport workers are a shameful example of our nation’s income inequality crisis,” said Father Jean-Mary. “We’re not only failing to keep King’s dream alive, but our communities are slipping further into poverty.”
“South Florida’s anchor institutions like our airports, the University of Miami as well as the Broward County Commission should be investing in the communities that supports them,” said Celius Joseph who works at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. “The government should not be in the business of supporting poverty jobs and must be held accountable for responsible use of public money.”
Passenger service workers at Kennedy Airport and LaGuardia Airport who make $9 or less are now getting an immediate $1-an-hour raise with a phase-in to $10.10. Those airlines also committed to work toward “providing an improved wage and benefits package to the thousands of airport workers.”
President Obama is calling for elected officials and business leaders nationwide to do whatever they can to raise wages. Connecticut recently increased the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. In addition, workers in SeaTac, Washington now earn a minimum wage of up to $15 per hour and cities like Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco are also considering a $15 wages. An overwhelming majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation support raising the minimum wage.
With more than 145,000 members in 11 states, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.