BUSINESS

Minimum Wage Workers In Florida Are Getting Short Changed

01/10/2011 06:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Six-cents seems like small change, but for nearly two hundred thousand low-wage workers in Florida, it's adding up to a legal battle.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) and Florida Legal Services (FLS) filed suit today against Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation (AWI) for not raising the minimum wage to keep pace with the cost of living.

Seven other states - Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington - have similar laws to Florida. Unlike Florida, these states increased their minimum wages to account for inflation for 2011. The increase in wages was expected to impact approximately 647,000 minimum wage workers across the country.

An extra six-cents an hour for a full-time, low-wage worker means an extra $124 a year. That can have a huge impact on individual's and their community, according to Tsedeye Gebreselassie, a staff attorney for NELP.

"For minimum wage earners, every additional cent is huge because it puts dollars in their pocket. And low-wage earners spend their income immediately so it's a big boost for the local economy."

NELP is accusing AWI of violating Florida's Constitution which made adjusting the minimum wage for inflation mandatory in 2004.

When the economy is experiencing deflation, the AWI does not decrease the minimum wage, but rather implements the federal wage level, putting more money in worker's pockets. When the cost of living goes up again, AWI is supposed to calculate a new minimum wage based on the wage set before deflation. But that's not what they did, according to a statement from NELP:

Internal documents obtained by the plaintiffs reveal that AWI reduced the state minimum wage in 2010 to $7.06 per hour from 2009's rate of $7.21 per hour because of deflation that occurred in 2008-2009. The rate should instead have remained at $7.21 for 2010.

In 2004, three-quarters of Florida's voters mandated adjusting the minimum wage to account for inflation. Every year the AWI must either increase the State's minimum wage to match inflation or set the minimum wage at the federal level - whichever number is higher.

Following the law, minimum wage workers in Florida should have seen a six-cent jump in their wages to $7.31 an hour instead of the $7.25 they've been getting since January 1st.

This year, Arizona increased, their minimum wage ten cents to $7.35, while minimum wage workers in Colorado started earning $7.36 an hour as of the new year.

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