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As low-wage jobs gain momentum, so do protests over pay

Fast-food worker LaShonna-Kyrell Delgardo makes $8.30 an hour as the 3-11 p.m. shift leader at a Dunkin' Donuts in Tampa. Look for her early this morning as she joins fellow workers protesting for higher wages outside her shop on E Busch Boulevard.

"I want to go back to school, but I work awkward hours," says Delgardo, 28 and single parent of a 2-year-old daughter. "A raise would mean I would not have to work so many hours, so I could do that."

As national protests by low-wage retail workers swell and join those targeting Walmart, some fast-food workers in Tampa will stage walkouts today. They are part of a 100-city strike and protest day by employees fighting for an hourly fast-food wage of $15 and the right to organize without hassles by employers.

For Delgardo, a bump to $15 would represent an 80 percent increase in pay. That's not likely, especially in low-paying Florida, where wages are stagnant. And thinly represented unions aren't likely to grab greater hold here.

What does Delgardo have to lose? A yearly wage barely topping $17,000 does not go far. Despite a promotion and 85-cent hourly raise, she's stretched just to cover $650 a month for rent. Without a car, she walks to work. When her food stamps run out each month, she scrapes together $100 to cover the rest.

Her certifications from Hillsborough Community College in phlebotomy and as an EKG technician did little to help her find related work in a still-weak job market.

Welcome to the low-wage economy. It has generated plenty of jobs in Florida since the recession. But in the process, it has left many folks more vulnerable and saddled with lower living standards.

In Tampa, workers from at least two fast-food businesses plan to protest their low-wage predicament. After the Dunkin' Donuts gathering captures the attention of early area commuters, a nearby KFC will be the site of a late-afternoon protest.

The national, union-supported movement has grown steadily this year, with fast-food workers at nearly a thousand restaurants in 60 cities — including Tampa — first striking briefly on Aug. 29.

On Black Friday, at least 100 workers and supporters were arrested in eight cities as Walmart workers protested at 1,500 stores nationwide. They called for Walmart to commit to paying workers $25,000 a year, providing full-time work and ending what employees say is illegal retaliation.

Lately, advocates of higher wages cleverly point out that the fast-food industry, by paying so little and offering few benefits, forces workers to rely on government aid — at hefty taxpayer expense.

"The overwhelming share of jobs in the fast-food industry pay low wages that force millions of workers to rely on public assistance in order to afford health care, food and other basic necessities," says a recent report by the National Employment Law Project.

So if you stop for doughnuts or fried chicken and see the protests, give a honk. Or buy them a meal.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

As low-wage jobs gain momentum, so do protests over pay 12/04/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 5, 2013 11:18am]
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