ST. PETERSBURG — The man who was told "Get a job" by U.S. Rep C.W. Bill Young says he would like an apology and a chance to talk with the congressman about raising the hourly minimum wage to $10.
But Andrew "Pepe" Kovanis, 31, also acknowledged on Friday that such a law wouldn't affect him directly because he is self-employed.
Kovanis created Internet buzz when he stopped Young after a July 4 speech to ask if he'd support raising the minimum wage.
"How about getting a job," Young told him. "Why do you want that benefit? Get a job."
"I have a job," Kovanis told him, "but it's not enough to get by on."
Kovanis appeared at a news conference Friday and acknowledged that when he said "I have a job," he was referring to the $8.50 per hour he pays himself in a new business he started called Edible Gardens.
Asked later if it was misleading for him to complain about the low wages he pays himself, Kovanis said no, because he previously worked for $8.50 per hour at a health food store. Kovanis, who said he has a psychology degree from the University of South Florida, said he has worked minimum wage jobs most of his life.
Kovanis said he has opened a booth at the Oldsmar Flea Market for his business, which specializes in helping people set up their own organic gardens. "Sad to say, I can only afford to pay myself $8.50 an hour," he said.
But he thinks he might earn more if the minimum wage went up and people had more spending money. In Florida, the minimum wage is $7.67 per hour.
During the news conference, Kovanis said he was "hurt" by what he considered Young's dismissive response. "I definitely would like an apology to not just myself but to low-wage workers that he's insulted," he said.
He also said he would like to meet with Young and discuss the proposal.
So would fellow activist Bill Hurley, who also spoke at the news conference and said he has been trying for months to meet with Young on the wage issue.
In response, Young issued a statement criticizing "professional" protestors who "do not tell you that I have supported minimum wage increases in the past." He said business owners tell him such an increase "would cause many of them to reduce their workforce, meaning more unemployment."
The Florida Consumer Action Network helped organize Friday's news conference, which was held outside a Sam's Club under construction on 34th Street N in St. Petersburg.
FCAN, Hurley and Kovanis said the event was not designed to support any candidates running against Young, the longest-serving member of the U.S. House.