Miami-Dade thrives when residents are paid a living wage

Close-up Photo Of Person's Hand Giving Cheque
Close-up Photo Of Person's Hand Giving Cheque Getty Images

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has vetoed legislation that would require future vendors operating out of prime business locations at the county’s airports, seaport, marinas and parks to pay their employees a living wage.

The “living wage” — $12.99 an hour plus health benefits — is calculated based on the minimum earnings necessary to stay above federal poverty rates. The veto message focused on job creation and relied on incredibly poor legislative analysis by staff. The mayor should reconsider this veto.

It is important to note that the adopted policy is prospective, meaning the new wage rates would only apply to future lease agreements or renewals. A future competitor who finds the wage policy inconsistent with the profit margins of their business plan is under no obligation to seek a government lease.

As every casual observer of County Hall knows, competition for locations at Miami International Airport typically involves a swarm of lobbyists, millions of dollars in campaign donations and vendors from around the globe. For every future vendor who does not want to pay a living wage, there are plenty of willing competitors who will be lined up to take their place. Our goal should always be to attract businesses that provide better wages to their employees.

Incredibly, the staff analysis declares that “the potential job loss as a result of this legislation is more than 2,700 jobs” for future airport projects alone. Such hysteria about jobs vanishing is an insult to the intelligence of every commissioner who must vote on this matter. Instead, as a result of this legislation, we should expect to see thousands of new jobs created that will pay decent wages.

The unfounded policy analysis provided to Mayor Gimenez must be rejected. However, it is not surprising he continues to focus on the issue of job creation in his veto message. When he took office in 2011, the unemployment rate in Miami-Dade County was 10 percent. The unemployment rate is now 5 percent. The unemployment rate has been cut in half since he was elected. Now, for the remainder of his term, Mayor Gimenez should focus his attention on making sure we have enough workers to support our booming local economy. To maintain and grow our workforce, we will need to create better jobs.

The most recent ALICE report (Asset Limited-Income Constrained-Employed) from United Way reveals 58 percent of our households are struggling to make ends meet. Housing costs continue to escalate. Workers simply are not able to survive in Miami-Dade on the state’s minimum wage of $8.25 an hour. The mayor knows full well that jobs at the airport are not at risk; the biggest threat to the future of our local economy is a ready and available workforce. It is a simple fact: workers need to earn better wages to live in Miami-Dade County.

I am proud that the County Commission has set an appropriate wage rate for businesses locating on county property. For the past 19 years, the Living Wage policy for county-contracted service workers has lifted people out of poverty. Incorporating a living-wage policy into county leases of taxpayer-owned property sends a positive message to our workforce: Elected officials are concerned about the working men and women of this county. Following our good example, other private-sector employers eventually will see the wisdom in increasing wages.

Mayor Gimenez should reconsider his veto of this legislation, and not only because of the exaggerated conclusions of the legislative analysis by his staff. Withdrawing the veto would open the door to better jobs. If the mayor does not reconsider, the County Commission should unite in support of the majority that approved this policy and override the veto. Going forward, working together, the mayor and commissioners should focus on creating better jobs and a better future for our workers.

Barbara J. Jordan represents District 1 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.