Laura Rollins didn’t used to worry so much about making ends meet. With a factory job at pencil maker Atlas Pen & Pencil Co., the $11.75 per hour she brought in was enough to cover basic essentials like health care and car insurance.
When Atlas’ Hollywood, Florida facility closed in 2007, Rollins was invited to work at the company’s new headquarters in Shelbyville, Tennessee. But when Atlas didn’t do well in Tennessee either, Rollins came back to Florida. She sold her car and began looking for a job accessible by bus from her Fort Lauderdale home. She found one at McDonald’s, in Miramar, where she’s been working for the past five years.
Now 63 years old and a great-grandmother, Rollins takes two buses to work and two buses home. She likes her colleagues and the job. The only problem: She can barely afford to get by. Making $8.45 per hour, she’s had to cut back on basic household items, often having to make tough decisions about what to buy and what she can do without. She has no insurance.
“I pay $880 a month for rent, so I have to save up my money every week just to pay that,” Rollins says. “After I get that covered, I worry about my electric, water bill, whatever else. It’s just not enough to get by.”
So today, Tax Day, Rollins will join hundreds of other Florida fast-food workers in a strike called the “Fight for $15” movement, which has a simple demand: $15 an hour and union rights for all workers.
Since hundreds of cooks and cashiers walked off their jobs in New York City two and a half years ago, demanding $15 an hour and union rights, workers in a range of industries have joined the Fight for $15 movement across the nation and the world.
In today’s Miami events — organized by by SEIU Florida and partners such as Unite Here Local 355, Florida New Majority, St. John’s Baptist Church, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Catalyst Miami, and AFL-CIO — the fast-food workers will be joined by adjunct professors and home-care, childcare, airport, industrial laundry, and Walmart workers.
SEIU is coordinating bus transportation for protesters, who will march and rally beginning at 6 a.m. at the Miami Shores McDonald’s and then move to the Fort Lauderdale airport outside Terminal 3. The day will finish in Miami at Greater Bethel AME Church (245 NW Eighth St.), where organizers hope a crowd into the thousands will gather at 5:30 p.m.
Bishop James Dean Adams of Overtown’s historic St. John’s Baptist Church will mobilize congregants for the afternoon march. In a show of opposition, the marchers will pass the Miami Worldcenter project in Overtown — the site of the proposed second-largest development in the nation.
“Developers are seeking $100 million to build [the Miami Worldcenter] right next to one of Miami’s most storied and neglected African American communities,” SEIU says in a release. “Despite seeking public funds, this project doesn’t guarantee any permanent living wage jobs to any of the local residents.”
Though McDonald’s hasn’t responded directly to Miami’s protest plans, nationally the company has addressed the movement by recently announcing raises to an average of $10 per hour for workers and increasing benefits. But those bumps affect only about 90,000 workers at locations directly owned by McDonald’s — not the vast majority of McDonald’s workers who are employed by franchises.
Rollins is looking forward to an historic day. She rounded up ten co-workers from her McDonald’s store to strike with her, as well as her two teenage granddaughters, who are also fast-food workers.
“I told my managers straight up I’m missing work,” she says. “I am not hiding anything — I said to them: ‘Do what you got to do, and I’m gonna do what I got to do.'”