Five on-campus progressive organizations banded together Wednesday to stage a rally in favor of a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.
The organizations — the College Democrats, the Student Labor Action Project, the National Organization for Women, Knights for Bernie, and Voices for Planned Parenthood (also known as Vox) — encouraged passersby to make signs in favor of a wage increase both nationally and in Florida, where the minimum is currently $8.05 an hour.
The rally itself was tied to the university’s upcoming contract renovation with Aramark, which will include, controversially, exclusive control by the food distributor over restaurants operating within the Student Union. Aramark also plans to fund a multi-million dollar renovation effort.
Those who decided to make signs were encouraged to add the tag “Hold Aramark Accountable”. Many of the signs demanded the company pay a “living wage” to its workers on campus, while one demanded the company be held accountable “because jobs should lift workers OUT (sic) of poverty, not keep them in it.”
Aramark currently employs 499 workers, 300 of whom are students and 382 are working part-time, according to figures provided by a UCF spokesperson. The company does not have seasonal workers on its payroll.
Knight News attempted to reach Aramark representative Brittney Brink for comment but has yet to receive a response. Requests by Knight News for statistics regarding the wages being paid to Aramark employees on campus have also been unanswered.
Derek Davie, a SLAP member, called on students from the sound stage to join the group in its anti-Aramark campaign, in part by boycotting on-campus restaurants currently being serviced by the company.
“Aramark isn’t just [63 South],” he said.
The rally also hosted three other speakers, one of whom was Carlos Guillermo Smith, an intended Democratic candidate for the Florida House District 49, of which UCF is a part. He cited numbers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics noting that 40 percent of Orlando workers make $25,000 a year and 25 percent make only $20,000. Indeed, while Orlando leads in tourism, it is dead last in median wages and is the only area in the US where the majority of jobs are paid less than $30,000 a year.
“I am grateful for the hospitality and tourism industries, but they are enriching themselves off the backs of hard working people,” Smith said.
Smith also provided petitions for a bill that he said he plans to introduce in the state legislature should he be elected. The Pay Floridians a Living Wage Act, which would increase the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour over four years and claims that it will improve the state economy while “saving taxpayers who won’t be forced to subsidize low wages with food stamps, Medicaid, and low-income housing.”
Alex Storer, the vice president of Knights for Bernie, focused on whether or not a $15 minimum wage is feasible, and pointed to California and New York, where state wage laws were signed this week. He made the case that students, while they generally do not work full-time, deserve a raise for other expenses.
“You could argue that they don’t need the same wages,” he said. “But on the other hand, you could look at the fact that the average college student in America graduates with at least $30,000 of student loan debt. So a lot of these kids are working because they need the extra money. They are struggling.”
The average student loan debt held by UCF students in 2014 was $23,378 in 2014, a little lower than the national average of over $28,000, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.
Another speaker, Tayler Gautier, represented an organization not typically known for its labor advocacy, but the Vox president differentiated between “reproductive rights” and “reproductive justice,” the latter meaning the ability of people to access reproductive services. She quoted the organization SisterSong, a reproductive rights advocacy group aimed particularly at women of color, which defines the term as “the human right to have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.”
“Economic insecurity is one of the major things that lies at the intersection of reproductive justice,” she said. “So a living wage is the best way to combat this. This is why Voices for Planned Parenthood at UCF stands with the Fight for 15 movement.”
The rally was part of a national week of action that engages students and workers on college campuses and in industries across the country. Tomorrow, a 24-hour strike will be staged by healthcare workers at 19 Consulate Nursing Homes locations statewide demanding a $15 an hour wage, including three locations in Orlando.
Another strike is being staged by workers of food services and management company Sodexo at Crossroads Plaza near Disney World.