By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI —Increasingthe minimum wage for workers at a local airport may bring expensive consequences for all county taxpayers
Since last year, workers at the Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale international Airport in Broward County have been protesting for better training, better working conditions and better pay.
And the protest goes on.
WE WANT MORE: Workers at the Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale International Airport organized a protest Jan. 14 calling for better pay and work conditions.
The Broward County Board of County Commissioners last November OK’d a resolution calling for a telephone hotline and email account where employees can register complaints. The resolution also calls for employee break rooms in each of the airport’s four terminals.
Commissioners also said they would discuss a voluntary minimum wage hike with airlines and subcontractors working at the airport, bowing to a push coming from the Service Employees International Union.
“In my opinion, many of the airport workers at FLL, and other airports around the country for that matter, work for wages at extremely low levels near the poverty line,” said County Commissioner Dale Holness.
“If we don’t pay a fair wage, many airport workers may have to rely on government assistance to put food on the table,” he said.
“I believe we should ensure that the hard working FLL workers that take our bags, clean our bathrooms, shine shoes, serve food, clean floors, clean aircrafts, etc. make a fair and decent livable wage that can support themselves and their family without government assistance.”
SEIU, the labor union, says more than 1,000 workers at the airport earn minimum wage or less because they also receive tips. It’s unknown how many of those employees receive taxpayer-supported government assistance.
Jorge Salazar Carrillo, a professor of economics at Florida International University, said increasing the minimum wage does not guarantee airport workers will not qualify for government benefits.
“A worker earning $50,000 annually is still able to apply for many tax incentives,” he said. “People don’t realize that – even when some of those workers stories may be heartbreaking – all taxpayers from (Broward) county will have to pay for the wage increase, or those who buy those services.”
And that, the professor said, will negatively impact the economy for everyone.
“It means that regular taxpayer will have less income, because the prices will go up, and it means that they will not be able to spend,” he said. “It’s easy to feel heartbreaking about a few, without knowing the consequences the measure will have.”
Among people feeling the heartbreak is Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief.
“When they (workers) were here, what they were talking about was that many of the workers have multiple job, to make it living. That what the issue was,” Sharief said. “Some of those workers were making $4.77 per hour, and they didn’t make any tip.
“We are trying to get there a better quality of working condition at the Fort Lauderdale Airport” the mayor said. “I received several visits from workers at the airport, regarding break room, regarding a place to keep their belongings, and regarding their ability to received more than tips wages.”
Salazar-Carrillo cried foul.
“I think that (saying tipped workers don’t get tips) is an exaggeration,” he said. “Even if we can assume that a half of the people don’t tip them, still is something.”
He also said that many people who earn a minimum wage or less receive “a wide range” of benefits from the government.
Labor unions pushing for the wage change, Salazar-Carrillo said, benefit most from those changes.
When changes happen, “they (labor leaders) are re-elected to positions as directors, and at the same time they have agreement with commissioners to support their political campaigns,: he said.
And in the end, taxpayers are the ones paying for it.”
Gerardo Martinez Solanas, an economist, political scientist and former United Nations official, said while increasing the minimum wage would be good for workers, now is not the right time to do it.
“The U.S. economy is still in a recession, and increasing the minimum wage will lead to higher unemployment,” he said.
He said small companies can’t support increasing the minimum wage, and if they are force to pay more, they will have to layoff employee.
On the other hand, it won’t be that easy to increase minimum salaries at the airport. The Florida Legislature is pushing a bill that would prevent local jurisdictions from requiring that local employees pay more than the state’s minimum wage. The minimum wage in Florida was raised to $7.93 per hour in January. Tipped employees must be paid at least $4.91 per hour in addition to their tips. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter
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