County officials honor Natacha Seijas for 1999 living wage law

She’s been known as the body bag commissioner because she once threatened a colleague with those words in a late night, early morning budget hearing. Natacha Seijas But on Tuesday — er, I mean, on “Honorable Natacha Seijas Day” — the former Hialeah commissioner who was ousted in an ugly and historic recall in 2011, was re-christened The Mother of the Living Wage.

That’s because Seijas was the one who brought us the living wage ordinance in 1999. And on Tuesday, after years of appeals were exhausted with a Supreme Court decision to let the ordinance stand, Seijas was honored for having the foresight.

The kudos was sponsored by her best friend, Commissioner Barbara Jordan, but everybody joined in for the congratulations afterwards, even Commissioner Esteban Bovo, who was way too eager to take over her district and has not been, shall we say, exactly the prodigal son.

Read related story: Budget breakfast for Bovo and Seijas

Well, everybody but Mayor Carlos Gimenez. He was conspicuously absent and Seijas Natacha Seijas dayopenly inferred no surprise. There is no love lost there.

But everybody else had a kind word.

“This legislation was really a watershed moment in this community,” said Commissioner Dennis Moss.

“Every once in a while, we get the opportunity to do something that is truly remarkable and changes the lives of individuals and makes their lives greater than what it was before,” Jordan said, while Seijas continued to greet people from her past.

“And she is still talking as she used to do on the dais,” Jordan said.

Among those people she was greeting, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who was the co-sponsor Screen shot 2016-06-22 at 3.08.15 AMof the pioneer 1999 legislation.

“As we used to do here when we served together, I am going to yield the floor to my good friend,” the Flagship DLP said.

“He does that only because I walked out on him one time and he didn’t have a quorum. So we became good friends after that,” Seijas quipped back.

“I always thought I would be always known for the body bag [comment],” she said. “Now, I’m known for something that really, really, really makes anybody feel happy and content and fulfilled.”

Read related story: Natacha Seijas — From ousted official to kids’ author

Diaz de la Portilla, who served as a county commissioner from 1993 to 2000, said that while the law passed unanimously on May 11 some 17 years ago, it was a battle to get there. “There was a lot of opposition. Opposition from vendors who did business with the county … but with the support of the labor unions, with the wonderful support of the attorneys office, with the support really of an entire community of working of the people who only wanted to provide for their families decently we were able to build the momentum to get a unanimous vote.”

He also thanked the FIU Labor Center, the Human Services Coalition and the local League of Women Voters for working with the county to make the Miami-Dade living wage ordinance a reality. It requires companies that have contracts with the county to pay their workers higher than the minimum wage (right now it’s at $12.63 an hour if health benefits are offered and $14.56 an hour without them).

Seijas said that it was fulfilling to get the votes and pass the law, but that people Natacha Seijas Daylike SEIU Florida President Monica Russo were the ones who “work and make it happen.”

Russo called Seijas a brave and courageous leader.

“She taught me in the trenches of Hialeah the meaning of community, the meaning of having those one on one conversations every single day with her constituents, listening, not just talking at but really listening,”Russo said. “For being a fighter for her neighbors, for her constituents… It had nothing to do with party affiliation. It was all about investing in and empowering the community.

“She has been a great and incredible mentor for me,” Russo said.

Commission Chairman Jean Monestime thanked her for her leadership but said there was still work to be done. “Working people still need a lot of help.”

It was the second time that Seijas has been back in commission chambers since she was ousted, the first being when Monestime was sworn in as chairman.

“I have no desire to go for nonsense,” she later told Ladra. “But something that makes a difference, yes.”

And Tuesday? “It was a very nice moment.”