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Florida’s minimum wage is increasing Jan. 1, but some workers say it’s not enough

Monica Russo, executive vice president for SEIU 1199, a union representing workers in Miami, speaks alongside state Sen. Jose-Javier Rodriguez at an Oct. 15 press conference in support of higher wages for Miami workers. Florida’s annual minimum wage increase, tied to increases in inflation, kicks in Jan. 1. It will climb from $8.25 to $8.46.
Monica Russo, executive vice president for SEIU 1199, a union representing workers in Miami, speaks alongside state Sen. Jose-Javier Rodriguez at an Oct. 15 press conference in support of higher wages for Miami workers. Florida’s annual minimum wage increase, tied to increases in inflation, kicks in Jan. 1. It will climb from $8.25 to $8.46. rwile@miamiherald.com

Florida’s minimum wage will rise from $8.25 to $8.46 Tuesday, in accordance with a 2004 ballot amendment indexing the wage to inflation increases.

The minimum wage for tipped workers will also climb, from $5.23 to $5.44 an hour.

With the increase, Florida will no longer have the second-lowest minimum wage among states whose minimum wages exceed the federal $7.25 minimum. Still, it represents just a 2.5 percent increase.

According to state Sen. Jose-Javier Rodriguez, the change will be insufficient to cover the rise in the cost of living many Floridians experienced in 2018, especially South Florida residents. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the average year-over-year increase in cost of living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area was well above 3 percent for most months of 2018.

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Bureau of Labor Statistics

Florida’s minimum wage inflation adjustment is tied to the bureau’s consumer price index for the South region, which includes 16 states and Washington, D.C.

“This is not a raise,” Rodriguez said in October at an event at the Service Employees International Union’s Miami headquarters that showcased the plight of Miami’s hourly workers. “It doesn’t look at the cost of healthcare, or changes in rents.”

In 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, 123,000 Florida workers were earning at or below the minimum wage (the minimum wage does not apply to some hourly workers, like farm workers).

In July, Miami-Dade approved an ordinance extending the county living wage of $13.44, assuming health benefits are also provided, to any employee at Miami International Airport whose employer signs a new lease with the county.

But the ordinance exempts employees of airlines.

James McKnight, a wheelchair attendant at Miami International Airport who is represented by a union, said that as a result, he and hundreds of other workers actually saw their pay decrease in 2018, from $14 to $9.50.

Employees like McKnight used to work for EULEN America, a contractor; now, American Airlines has begun hiring its wheelchair attendants, and other workers, from Envoy Air, a subsidiary of American Airlines. Pay has been cut as a result, said the union, Communications Workers of America.

“These are poverty wages,” said McKnight, 58.

He said he and his coworkers get more than 1 million requests for wheelchairs a year.

“We deserve $15 an hour. It won’t make us rich, but it will ease the burden.”

Envoy says it offers competitive pay, along with monthly employee bonuses when it meets its operational goals. It says its employees also participate in American Airlines profit sharing.

A plan to gather signatures to put a $15 minimum wage on Florida ballots in November fell flat. The status of Miami’s Fight for $15 movement chapter is not clear; its Miami representative could not immediately be reached. Another effort to put a $15 minimum wage on 2020 ballots launched by Orlando attorney John Morgan has already raised nearly $500,000, according to campaign documents.

Miami Beach is still waiting for a ruling from the State Supreme Court on the city’s attempt to increase its minimum wage to $13.31 by 2021. The ordinance is being challenged by the state, which believes it conflicts with the original 2004 minimum wage amendment. Oral arguments in the case have been scheduled for March 6, 2019.

Business groups have opposed the increase, including the Florida Retail Federation, which has said the ordinance would “place an additional mandate on local businesses by requiring Miami Beach business owners to provide wages above what the state has previously established in law.”

Low-wage airport workers protested outside Eulen headquarters near Miami International Airport. Workers in nine major cities demonstrated for better wages and benefits on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Rob Wile covers business, tech, and the economy in South Florida. He is a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and Columbia University. He grew up in Chicago.
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