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The battle cry of Fight for $15, an international movement committed to alleviating the struggle of low-wage workers, is to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and ensure strong union representation for all workers.

Since the Fight for $15 movement began on the streets of New York City in 2012, it has grown to encompass thousands of workers in hundreds of cities across more than 35 countries. It touches all sectors of the economy, with fast food workers, adjunct professors, childcare workers, health care workers, store clerks and Wal-Mart workers united in solidarity.

Why is this fight so critical?

Since the 1990s, the cost of living has been outpacing wages. With the federal minimum wage currently at $7.25 and Florida’s minimum wage slightly higher at $8.05, the stagnation of wages to the average worker and the widening gap between low- and high-wage workers means hardworking underprivileged folks are ill-equipped to confront the struggles of life without government assistance on some level. More than 80 percent of people who would benefit from a federal minimum wage increase are ages 20 or older, and 55 percent of them are women.

The promise of this country is simple: If you work hard and play by the rules, you can make a better life for yourself and achieve your goals. Unfortunately, the current wage structure denies this promise to thousands of low-wage workers. No hardworking Floridian should struggle to make ends meet or rely on government assistance. The Fight for $15 movement works to uplift and empower low-wage workers to speak out about how all workers deserve dignity, respect and greater opportunity.

Low-wage employers actually have business models based on their employees living off public assistance. According to the 2013 Economic Impact of Poverty Report presented by the Pinellas County Health and Community Services, the impacts of rampant poverty to the average tax payer includes $500 billion a year nationally and $348 million a year in Florida.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour is the right and the smart thing to do. Not only will it relieve states of the crushing financial costs associated with supporting these workers, but minimum wage increase will have no discernible effect on employment. In fact, more than 600 economists signed onto a letter to President Barack Obama in support of raising the minimum wage to at least $10.10 by 2016. A wage of $15 per hour will increase consumer purchasing power, decrease employee turnover, increase productivity and ultimately lead to a healthier economy.

So far, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and St. Louis have all raised their minimum wages to $15 per hour. We need Florida to follow suit, though barriers do exist. In 2004, Florida passed a law that preempted cities from passing their own minimum wage, and Tallahassee’s current Republican leadership vehemently opposes implementing a living wage for hardworking Floridians. However, by empowering low-wage workers and demanding action from large employers and elected officials, the Fight for $15 will continue gaining momentum.

Whether it will be in the halls of Tallahassee, in the city or county commission chambers, on the picket line or in the streets, I’m proud to stand in solidarity with hardworking Floridians demanding a fair shot. Join me by visiting fightfor15.org.

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Ida Eskamani is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.

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