Activists still want minimum wage increase despite "get a job" gaffe

07/13/12 Janelle Irwin
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Last week at a Fourth of July event in Treasure Island, member of Congress Bill Young told a constituent to “get a job”. The comment from the longtime Republican politician was in response to a question about raising the minimum wage and sparked national outcry from those who thought it was offensive. A YouTube video of the comment has more than 34,000 hits so far.

“Hi, I’m Pepe. How are you?

"I’m good."

"Happy Fourth of July."

"Thank you."

"Jesse Jackson Jr. is passing a bill around to increase the minimum wage to ten bucks an hour, do you support that?"

"Probably not."

"Ten bucks an hour to give us a living wage?" "How about getting a job?"

"I do have one. I make $8.50 an hour".

"Why do you want that benefit? Get a job.

“I have a job, but it’s not enough to get by on."

Pepe Kovanis, the constituent in the video, recently started his own business growing organic vegetables. At a press conference today in St. Pete about the issue, Kovanis said the current minimum - $7.67 per hour – isn’t a living wage.

“I really do think ten dollars an hour is fair, it’s a livable wage. I think anything short of that would be difficult. People would struggle to still get by. I mean, of course I’d welcome it but I really think we need ten dollars an hour.”

Because he is self-employed, a change to the minimum wage would not directly affect him. But Kovanis thinks the $8.50 an hour he makes in profits would go up because people would have more spending power. He also doesn’t agree with the argument that raising the minimum wage would cost taxpayers more money.

“You would reduce the amount of public assistance that’s going out to the people because now they’re earning it. They would then be paying more income tax on the money they bring in.”

Kovanis wasn’t the only one unhappy with Young’s behavior last week. Progressive activist Bill Hurley who is active with groups like the Florida Consumer Action Network and sometimes the Occupy Movement, asked Young why more isn’t being done to help low-income veterans. Young didn’t respond and instead, walked away from Hurley who is a veteran.

“I kind of got mad at because he’s my representative and he shouldn’t be walking away no matter if the questions are hard. If you ask me a hard question I’m going to sit here and try to answer it as honestly as I can. I expect the same from somebody I voted for which I’ll never do again.”

Both Hurley and Kovanis said they’re frustrated and want an apology and a commitment from Young that he will meet with them. As of today, they haven’t gotten either. It’s raised concerns that after more than 50 years in politics, he’s out of touch with voters. One of Young’s opponents in next month’s Republican primary, Darren Ayres, offered his would-be constituents the meeting they want. A member of his campaign staff, Karena Morrison, said Ayres isn’t focused on raising the minimum wage, but Young handled the disagreement in policy inappropriately.

“Darren is basically is concerned about everyone getting jobs and basically what he said was, people without a job – you can’t really get more minimum than that. He wants to work for a healthy economy. But sitting down and reaching out to Pepe and having a conversation and explaining that to him he felt was imperative to be a true representative of the people.”

Peggy Goodale, another constituent at the press conference, said she was still shocked at the way he handled the questions. She said it hasn’t done his campaign any favors, but anticipates the member of Congress bouncing back from it.

“He’s clever and he’s able to turn things. He can vote certain ways but he comes out as being for things. I think his staff at his office are just wonderful people and really keep people from being more angry. If he didn’t have such good staff handling people, there would be more anger I think.”

The Florida Consumer Action Network has been compiling signatures urging Young to apologize for his “get a job” comment. They plan to deliver the petitions to his district office in Seminole on July 24. According to a spokesperson for the group, that day is significant because it’s the third anniversary of the last time minimum wage was increased.

WMNF tried to reach Young for comment, but he did not respond by air time.

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