JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nov. 2 witnessed a great step forward for workplace justice in Florida. By an overwhelming 72-28 percent majority, the state’s voters adopted “The Florida Minimum Wage Amendment” to the state’s constitution. Commonly known as “Amendment 5,” this historic law will directly benefit up to 1 million workers throughout the Sunshine State.

Amendment 5 covers all workers already regulated by federal minimum wage laws. It mandates an immediate pay increase to $6.15 an hour, and also requires an automatic annual increase based on inflation. Florida becomes the 14th state to set its own minimum wage, and is now the third to mandate an indexed increase. Also, placing this law in the constitution makes it virtually impossible to repeal.

The importance of this victory is hard to overstate. Florida becomes the first southern state to join the growing movement towards a mandated living wage for low-income workers. Even more significant is the fact that Amendment 5 gained overwhelming acceptance in a Republican state from the same voters who swung heavily Republican on the same day. Every county in the state gave “A5” a majority.

The credit for this victory rests squarely with organized labor and Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Union councils and locals throughout the state strongly endorsed Amendment 5 and worked for it. Among the national unions contributing to the cause were AFSCME, AFT, NEA, and SEIU. In Jacksonville, State Sen. Tony Hill (D-1) — an active member of the International Longshoremen’s Association before entering politics — was especially visible in the struggle.

ACORN provided vital support, especially in organizing Black communities throughout the state. In the final weeks prior to the Nov. 2 election, ACORN led a 10-day, 15-city bus tour to help focus media attention on A5. National speakers helping in one or more rallies included Michael Moore, Roseanne Barr, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In retrospect, the biggest job was organizing the petition drive and obtaining enough signatures. Business associations opposed the measure but did not mount a major effort to defeat it.

This great victory for workers — duplicated, incidentally, in Nevada — reminds us that the majority of Americans, including those classified as conservative, are open to community appeals for economic justice.

The author can be reached at sswart1818@aol.com.

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