After a prolonged effort by our community to uphold the basic tenets of social justice, the Miami-Dade County Commission passed an ordinance in 1999 to offer a more honorable life to thousands of employees on County service contracts.
The Living Wage Ordinance established that companies providing services to the county for a value greater than $100,000 must pay their workers a minimum wage annually indexed to inflation, so that citizens and their families can support themselves with dignity above the poverty line.
In concrete numbers, while the minimum hourly wage in Florida is currently $7.79, the Living Wage in Miami-Dade is $13.82 per hour, or $12.06 with a health benefit plan of $1.76 per hour.
Broward and Palm Beach counties passed similar ordinances and a few Florida municipal governments such as Miami Beach followed those footsteps.
There is a saying that good things don’t last forever. The Florida House Local and Federal Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved a proposed bill to ban local governments from providing benefits not required by state or federal government. Specifically, it preempts all living wage ordinances that require a minimum wage for employees of government contractors. It also prevents any local government from passing this kind of ordinance in the future.
If legislators pass the Political Subdivisions Bill (HB 655), sponsored by House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, this act would take effect July 1, destroying the fruits of South Florida’s labor rights advocates and significantly diminishing the incomes of thousands of South Florida families.
In 2003, legislators banned local governments from establishing a minimum wage within their jurisdictions. However, at that time, they did not limit local governments’ authority to establish a minimum wage for their contractors’ employees.
Minimum wage laws across the United States traditionally face resistance from business groups. Opponents argue that they are dangerous economic policy because they artificially inflate wages and the cost of doing business, causing layoffs and potentially raising the cost of similar jobs in the private sector.
Some Florida lawmakers backed by Big Business, contend that enacting living-wage laws pushes as many people into poverty as it gets out and rely on the ideological belief that the market-based wages should be the ultimate determinant of economic distribution.
Supporters of these rules, however, believe that public funds should not be used to foster more poverty or subsidize companies who pay below poverty level wages. On the contrary, taxpayers’ contribution must serve to maintain or elevate living standards in the community, especially for hard-working Floridians attempting to bring bread to the table.
In general, research by economists has shown that higher salaries increase productivity, reduce turnover and absenteeism, promote labor force stability and do not have a negative impact on employment.
The main effect of increasing the minimum wage is simply raising the income of low-paid workers. In fact, an overwhelming majority of voters tends to favor raising the base salary. In 2004, for example, Floridians approved a constitutional amendment to create a state minimum wage above the federal minimum — whose real value is dramatically lower than it was in the 1960s — with annual increments indexed to inflation.
Even so, the minimum wage has been proven to be inadequate to keep low-income workers and their families out of poverty without depending on government social services.
In a state that has no real Department of Labor to protect workers’ interests, Miami-Dade County has protected some labor rights for its residents, especially if they are hired by the public sector or by hundreds of private companies that provide security, distribution, maintenance and management services.
It would be despicable that in the name of corporate growth, the Sunshine State would invalidate the decent wages of thousands of its workers, thus creating more social inequalities and poverty.