Miami-Dade County

Mayor blocks effort to boost pay at Miami airport in latest 'living wage' fight

Wendy Bonilla, who works at a sandwich shop renting space at Miami International Airport, praises a new county ordinance requiring a "living wage" for businesses operating in county facilities like MIA. She spoke at a May 23, 2018 press conference outside County Hall that was organized by labor unions, including Service Employees International. Mayor Carlos Gimenez vetoed the ordinance later in the day.
Wendy Bonilla, who works at a sandwich shop renting space at Miami International Airport, praises a new county ordinance requiring a "living wage" for businesses operating in county facilities like MIA. She spoke at a May 23, 2018 press conference outside County Hall that was organized by labor unions, including Service Employees International. Mayor Carlos Gimenez vetoed the ordinance later in the day. dhanks@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Wednesday vetoed legislation requiring county tenants to pay their employees up to $15 an hour, saying the "living wage" rules would hurt the government's ability to compete for business.

"It puts us at a competitive disadvantage," Gimenez said of the ordinance passed May 15 in a 7 to 5 vote. "It may actually discourage some investments in the county."

Miami-Dade's "living wage" rules already require vendors and contractors to pay workers well above Florida's minimum hourly wage of $8.25. The new legislation would have expanded the requirements to businesses renting space in county facilities under leases signed after the law took effect. That could have had the biggest impact at Miami International Airport, home to coveted storefronts and restaurant spaces rented by some of the top donors in county politics.

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Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposed 2019 budget includes new spending for school security and response teams for mass shootings. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Adjusted annually, Miami-Dade's living wage policy requires workers for some companies in county contracts to earn between $13 and $15 an hour, depending on whether the employer also offers health benefits.

Commissioners need a two-thirds vote to override a mayoral veto, which would mean switching one No vote to Yes if all board members are present.

Anticipating a veto, unions called a press conference Wednesday outside County Hall to tout the legislation as a way for Miami-Dade to discourage rock-bottom wages at an airport where the top retailers generated more than $300 million in sales last year.

Wendy Bonilla said she makes $10 an hour at a sandwich shop renting space at MIA, and took home about $21,000 last year. "Try living in Miami on $10 per hour," she said in Spanish. "After I pay my rent, and put food on the table, I have no money for the things my child needs."

In a memo, Gimenez said requiring living wages in county leases would hurt a string of potential job-producing deals, including MIA outlets for Starbucks and Jackson Soul Food, airport hangar operators, and a for-profit theme park planned for next to ZooMiami. Gimenez also said Amazon's distribution center, being built on county land next to the Opa-locka airport, wouldn't have happened if the law had been in place, since the online giant pays too little to meet the proposed requirements.

"Job creation and the County's ability to collect revenues from future economic development projects may be jeopardized as a result of this newly-passed legislation," he wrote, adding that a broad living-wage rule on county property would discourage businesses from opening in Miami-Dade. "Specifically, increasing wages may cause production costs to rise, making Miami-Dade a less desirable place to do business."

With airport concessions churning through millions of dollars from the captive market in the county-owned airports, backers of the living-wage rules say profits are coming at the expense of underpaid workers.

"We're sick and tired of hearing the same talking points, when it's just not true. It's a multibillion-dollar economic engine," said Lili Bach, political director of a Miami chapter of the Service Employees International Union, which represents some private-sector airport workers. "These airport jobs used to be good-paying jobs."

Bach also noted Gimenez late last year asked commissioners to double his current pay to just over $300,000, what he would have earned in 2011 if he hadn't fulfilled a campaign promise to cut the mayor's salary in half. "These workers are asking for $3 an hour," she said. "He's asking for, what, $150,000?"

Large MIA retailers said after the commission vote that it wasn't reasonable for Miami-Dade to demand hefty revenue-sharing rents from large tenants while also imposing living-wage requirements.

"We couldn't pay a living wage," said Chris Korge, a partner at Newslink, a top MIA retailer that generated about $38 million in sales last year, according to an airport summary. "No one can pay the living wage today and pay the rent they pay today at Miami International." Newslink's 2014 contract with Miami-Dade requires it to pay at least $6 million in rent annually, which would amount to about 16 percent of sales. Korge said Wednesday the full rent amounts to about $8 million, or about 21 percent of sales.

Gimenez, a Republican, announced the veto the same day he took sides in a race for a non-partisan commission seat that is settling along party lines. The mayor said Wednesday he would "probably" start raising money for Zoraida Barreiro, the Republican trying to succeed her husband, Bruno Barreiro, who resigned his District 5 seat in March to run for Congress.

Barreiro finished second Tuesday to Democrat Eileen Higgins, and now the two face each other in a June 19 runoff. Gimenez hadn't endorsed during the primary. Barreiro did not respond to a request for her position on the living-wage ordinance. Higgins said she supported it.

"If employers don't pay a living wage, the rest of the residents of the county end up making up the difference in having to deal with the costs of providing affordable housing solutions, and, sadly, sometimes even homelessness," she said in a statement.

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