Workers from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Orlando International Airport met ahead of Monday night’s Democratic gubernatorial debate to share their struggles with low wages and talk about strategies to increase it.
The groups held a private meeting before the debate, which was facilitated by the workers' union 32BJ SEIU, and then attended together the so-called Florida Freedom Forum with Democratic candidates to push for a living wage increase.
Emmanuel Hunt shared his story with Fort Lauderdale workers. Hunt makes just over $5 dollars an hour at Orlando International Airport. He said he came to South Florida to hear what the Democratic candidates for governor have to say.
“We helping them get into power,” he said. “So we want in return that they see to it that our minimum wage goes up.”
In recent years, workers at the Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports have seen wage increases. Orlando has not.
Gloria Nejjar works in Fort Lauderdale’s airport. She told the Orlando workers it would be a long battle to raise their minimum wage. Three years ago, her wages went from $8 an hour to nearly $13. For her, it was worth it.
“It got to $13 dollars and it was much better. Now you can breathe,” Nejjar said.
She said workers still need wages to be higher to get by - that's why she and other union workers will be awaiting more detailed plans from all gubernatorial candidates about how to increase the minimum wage.
“Nothing is easy in this world," she said. "They need to help us so we can get everybody to par, where they're supposed to be because cost of living is so high."
The Florida chapter of 32BJ SEIU coordinated the meeting between city workers as part of its ongoing participation in a national campaign to increase the living wage to $15 dollars an hour for subcontracted workers, in addition to helping workers win union representation.
This story has been updated.