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Florida: Groups Sue for Minimum Wage Increase
Highlands Today
Marc Valero

January 19, 2011
View the Original Article

SEBRING - Finding fault with the cost of living calculation, two worker advocacy groups are suing Florida's labor agency, claiming the state failed to raise the minimum wage by 6 cents an hour this year to keep up with inflation.

The lawsuit claims the Agency for Workforce Innovation violated the Florida Constitution by keeping the minimum wage at the $7.25 per hour federal rate, where it was last year, instead of raising it to $7.31 on Jan. 1.

Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce President Greg Harris believes it was a good move to hold the minimum wage at $7.25.

"I don't think we need to put anything else on the small business people because they are struggling," he said.

"Many are out of work and still looking for jobs so that $7 and change would look good to a bunch of people," Harris said.

This will probably be a pivotal year for the economy, but once things improve it may be time to inch the minimum wage up, he said. It wasn't that long ago that it was $5.05 an hour.

The minimum wage reached $5.15 in September 1997; $5.85 in July 2007; $6.55 in July 2008 and $7.25 in July 2009.

About 188,000 minimum wage workers are affected by the state's incorrect calculation, according to The National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services, which filed the suit recently in Leon County Circuit Court.

The suit notes that seven states with similar laws increased their minimum wages on New Year's Day. They are Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Vicki Jarvis of Sebring said the minimum wage really hurts the small business owner, and those are the kind of businesses there are in Highlands County.

Jarvis is co-owner of Frames & Images and Jarvis Contract Flooring.

"I know that it is hard to live on a minimum wage salary, but trust me, the small business owner isn't getting rich either," she said.

Dusty Davis, owner of Taylor Rental Center in Sebring and Okeechobee, said his workers start with a salary above minimum wage, but he thinks it's stupid to complain about 6 cents.

"If you work 10 hours that's 60 cents," he noted. The labor groups are likely just trying to get attention.

"If I was on minimum wage I would want 6 cents more, but I don't think it's going to be the end of the world; maybe I don't drink a soda that day," he said.

The county has no employees making minimum wage. The city of Sebring has nine seasonal and student employees working for minimum-wage at the Sebring Golf Club.

The state Supreme Court said in an advisory opinion that Florida's constitutional amendment, which passed in 2004, does not provide for decreases in minimum wage because of deflation.

Yet, the suit alleges, the agency cut the minimum wage in 2010 to $7.06 an hour from the previous year's $7.21 and failed to publicly announce its calculations as required by law.

Florida workers avoided the reduction because Congress passed a minimum wage law requiring $7.25 an hour.

The suit alleges the agency miscalculated the rate this year as $7.16 an hour, still below the federal minimum, based on its erroneous $7.06 rate in 2010. The plaintiffs contend the agency instead should have calculated this year's state minimum wage off the federal rate.

They said the agency's internal memos acknowledge the Supreme Court's ruling and express worries that a decrease would be illegal.