Increasing the minimum wage for workers at a South Florida airport may bring expensive consequences for all Broward County taxpayers.
Since last year, workers at the Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale International Airport have been protesting for better training, better working conditions and better pay.
And the protest goes on.
The Broward County Board of County Commissioners last November OKd 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 airports 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 dont 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 families 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. Its 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 dont 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 taxpayers will have less income, because prices will go up, and it means that they will not be able to spend more, he said. Its easy to feel heartbroken 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 jobs, to make a living. Thats what the issue was, Sharief said. Some of those workers were making $4.77 per hour, and they didnt make any tips.
We are trying to get better quality working conditions at the Fort Lauderdale Airport the mayor said. I received several visits from workers at the airport, regarding the break room, regarding a place to keep their belongings, and regarding their ability to receive more than tipped wages.
Salazar-Carrillo cried foul.
I think that (saying tipped workers dont get tips) is an exaggeration, he said. Even if we can assume that half of the people dont tip them, that is still 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 agreements 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.
Solanas said small companies cant support increasing the minimum wage, and if they are forced to pay more, they will have to lay off employees.
On the other hand, it wont be that easy to increase minimum salaries at the airport. The Florida Legislature is pushing a bill that would prevent local jurisdictions from requiring local employees to pay more than the states 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.