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Florida’s Minimum Wage Increases in the First Step to $15

The increase is the first in a series that will eventually raise the state’s wage to $15 an hour. The wage raise is the first in the country to be approved by ballot measure, which was passed by 61 percent of voters.

(TNS) — Florida’s minimum wage rises to $10 an hour Thursday, the first hike in a series of increases that will eventually push it to $15 an hour.

The boost is a result of Amendment 2, passed by 61 percent of Florida voters in November 2020, making it the first state in the country to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour by a ballot measure. The amendment says that the minimum wage will rise from $8.56 to $10 an hour starting on September 30, 2021, and then increase by $1 an hour every year until 2026.

Minimum-wage workers and union organizers call it a major victory, since wages have not kept up with inflation and the increasing cost of living. The amendment’s success was seen across the country as a potential catalyst for other states to follow suit or for a national minimum wage increase.

“The cost of living is just going up in all aspects and the current minimum wage doesn’t cover it,” said Esperanza Jiminez, 65, a janitor at an office building in downtown Coral Gables.

She is active in fighting for higher wages with 32BJ SEIU, a union representing janitors, airport workers and security officers. Jiminez campaigned in support of Amendment 2, handing out fliers and doing community outreach.

Her employer, Coastal Building Maintenance, had raised her wage to $10 an hour in March. Union leaders say many companies have already increased their wages in anticipation of the amendment and to attract more workers amid the national labor shortage during the COVID pandemic.

Jiminez, who is from Nicaragua, says that the increase to $10 an hour is a good improvement, but still falls short of what she needs to pay her bills. According to MIT’s living wage calculator, a single adult needs to make $16 an hour in order to afford to live in Miami-Dade County.

After taxes, Jiminez brings home around $1,500 a month. She pays $600 to split an apartment in Opa Locka with her son and his three daughters, plus she chips in $100 in electricity and helps her son support his children. She also sends remittances to her elderly mother in Nicaragua. Jiminez takes a series of buses and the Metrorail to get to Coral Gables, which can take up to two hours.

“It’s too much to pay for with this low wage,” she said. “We are essential workers, we’ve been on the front line this whole time, we deserve a dignified salary,” Jiminez added, explaining that she contracted COVID-19 in late December and was hospitalized. She says she is experiencing long COVID symptoms, with persistent headaches and joint pain.

Helene O’Brien, the Florida director for 32BJ SEIU union, said that many of their members are immigrants who come to the U.S. in search of the American Dream.

“You shouldn’t have to get ahead by getting lucky on a real estate flip, or from investing in bitcoin,” she said. “People do honest work and they don’t get ahead. Amendment 2 is the beginning of turning that around.”

©2021 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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