Miami-Dade County

The latest front in Miami's 'living wage' battle runs through Starbucks

Lovely Jordain, a Starbucks worker at Miami International Airport, speaks during a press event held by a union pushing Miami-Dade to expand its living-wage rules to cover food outlets and other tenants at county facilities. At right is Evans Philias, who works at a Starbucks at Broward County's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Broward has living-wage rules for food outlets at its airport.
Lovely Jordain, a Starbucks worker at Miami International Airport, speaks during a press event held by a union pushing Miami-Dade to expand its living-wage rules to cover food outlets and other tenants at county facilities. At right is Evans Philias, who works at a Starbucks at Broward County's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Broward has living-wage rules for food outlets at its airport. dhanks@miamiherald.com

As unions battle Miami-Dade's mayor over a push to expand the county's "living wage" rules to cover most airport workers, both sides are pointing to Starbucks as proof they're right.

Last week, Mayor Carlos Gimenez justified vetoing an expanded living wage ordinance by saying the proposed rules governing tenants at Miami International Airport and other county facilities would jeopardize pending leases, including one with Starbucks.

On Tuesday, labor unions picked an MIA Starbucks to make their case for county commissioners to override Gimenez's May 23 veto, saying low-wage workers at the coffee chain should earn more at Miami-Dade's showcase airport.

"It's hard and difficult," said Lovely Jordain, a Starbucks cashier at MIA who said she earns about $11 an hour. "I can't pay my bills."

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Her hourly pay could eventually go up about two dollars under the legislation that narrowly passed the commission earlier this month, which expanded existing living wage rules for county contractors to businesses renting space in county facilities. Broward County already requires a living wage at food outlets at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, and union leaders say it's a knock on Miami-Dade that MIA workers earn less doing the same job as their counterparts 30 miles to the north.

"They charge the same amount for a mocha cappuccino in both airports," said Wendi Walsh, an officer at Unite Here's South Florida chapter, which represents Jordain and other airport concession workers. "But in one airport, [the starting pay] is $8.50 and in another airport it's $12.38."

Starbucks is just one of more than 200 MIA shops and restaurants that could be affected by the ordinance, but only after their existing contracts with Miami-Dade expire. The ordinance only applies to new or renewed leases, so current tenants wouldn't see any immediate changes if the new law took effect over the mayor's veto.

Starbucks referred questions about wages at South Florida airports to HMS Host, the company that manages franchises for the Fort Lauderdale and Miami facilities under county airport contracts. HMS Host representatives were not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The ordinance that passed on a 7 to 5 vote on May 15 would create a much broader living wage rule than Broward's, which targets airport concessions but not county tenants in general. Gimenez cited the difference in a memo explaining his veto, saying Miami-Dade can't afford to become less competitive than the neighboring county government.

Gimenez said the ordinance would be a drag on Miami-Dade's efforts to boost the economy by using county property to attract for-profit companies. He pointed to potential deals that could be hurt by the wage rules, including redevelopment projects at Metrorail stations and a low-orbit satellite manufacturer Miami-Dade is trying to bring to Doral.

While the ordinance would be "a short-term benefit to our local workforce in terms of increased wages," Gimenez said it represented "bad policy ... [whose] long-term consequences — particularly relating to the potential loss of jobs and revenue — greatly outweigh any potential short-term gains."

At the commission's next meeting, the 12-person board could overturn the mayor's veto with eight votes. That would require switching one vote from the No side. Unite Here estimated about 2,000 households have at least one worker at an MIA concession that would eventually be covered by the ordinance.

The ordinance would require most county tenants under new leases to pay workers what Miami-Dade considers a living wage. Currently, that's between $13 and $15 an hour, depending on whether health insurance comes with the compensation. Without the rules, employers can pay Florida's minimum wage, which sits at $8.25 an hour.

Unite Here picked Tuesday for its Starbucks event because it coincided with the Seattle-based chain closing company-owned stores nationwide for an afternoon of anti-discrimination training. The temporary shutdowns — which did not affect airport locations — followed outrage over the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks while they were waiting to meet someone there.

"This is a justice issue," said Rev. Marquise Hardick, of Miami's Trinity CME Church, whom Unite Here tapped to speak at the Starbucks event. He later led a "No Justice No Peace" chant outside of the Starbucks at MIA's Concourse E.

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