Miami-Dade County

The minimum wage won't be good enough at Miami's airport under new county law

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A new county law requires businesses renting space from Miami-Dade to pay employees a living wage, a rule that could mean several dollars more per hour for the lowest-paid workers at Miami International Airport and other county facilities.

The legislation that passed Tuesday is the latest example of Miami-Dade expanding its authority to impose wage requirements on companies doing business with the county government. The county already requires most vendors to pay a living wage, defined as $15 an hour for employers not offering benefits. That's about 80 percent higher than Florida's $8.25 hourly minimum wage.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez has 10 days to decide whether to veto the legislation, which passed as something of a surprise on Tuesday. Before the vote, sponsor Barbara Jordan joked that she was a glutton for punishment for pushing the legislation and promised to be back for a second try if it failed.

Instead, it passed narrowly: 7-5. Gimenez did not participate in the discussion Tuesday and said he would decide later whether to reject the legislation.

Along with exemptions for airlines, cruise lines, community nonprofits, and tenants of the county-owned Jackson hospital system, the legislation applies only to new leases.

So there won't be any immediate impact from Miami-Dade's expanded living wage ordinance. But the rules would apply to lease renewals, as well as dozens of county-owned offices, shops and restaurants throughout the county's real estate portfolio, which includes PortMiami, commercial developments at Metrorail stations, and community buildings and parks.

"It's not symbolic," Jordan said after the vote. County tenants "are laying off people because they want to bring in new people and pay them less money. This will put a stop to that."

The proposal brought warnings from MIA retailers that customers and the traveling public would end up paying for the inflated wages, through higher prices.

Chris Descalzo, a partner at Global Miami, the company that operates the Cafe Versailles and La Carreta chains at MIA, said Tuesday it was too soon to tell what the passed legislation would mean for the business. But he warned that imposing higher wages for certain employers can devastate businesses.

"Though it sounds nice and noble," Descalzo wrote in an email, "living wage is devastating to business owners overall, something that politicians really don't understand [in terms of] its impact."

Commissioners voting against Jordan's proposal were Chairman Esteban "Steve" Bovo, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Joe Martinez, Rebeca Sosa and Javier Souto.

Sosa said she supported mandating the living wage for county contractors, but not for businesses who just happened to be renting commercial space from Miami-Dade. She said people were writing her during the meeting to complain about the proposal.

"People are listening at home," she said, reading from her phone. "'We forget the private sector is already burdened enough from government. And I believe that is true."

Daniella Levine Cava argued that Miami-Dade has an obligation to use its influence to produce higher wages for workers connected to the county.

"If we as a county can't attach better standard-of-living opportunities for people who come within our orbit," she said, "then we're not doing our job. Living wage is about that."