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Minimum Wages Could Be Lowered In Arizona, Florida

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WASHINGTON -- Republican lawmakers in Arizona are pushing legislation that would lower the legal minimum wage for younger part-time workers and tipped workers such as restaurant servers, just as Florida lawmakers are considering dropping their state's tipped rate as well.

In both cases, proponents of the measures are arguing that the wage floor for such employees is too onerous on businesses.

The Arizona proposal, HCR 2056, would amend state law so that an employer could pay a teenage worker $3 less than the current minimum wage per hour if the worker is employed either part-time or on a temporary basis. The Arizona minimum wage is currently $7.65 -- forty cents more than the federal rate -- meaning that many teenagers could end up being paid $4.65 per hour if voters approve the proposal in a ballot initiative later this year.

An amendment to the legislation would also cut the minimum wage that employers must pay tipped employees by more than $2 per hour. The minimum wage for servers and other tipped workers in Arizona is currently $4.65. If a worker's tips don't add up to the normal minimum wage of $7.65, the employer must cover the difference -- a stipulation that would not change with the legislation.

The proposal, which was sponsored by the House of Representatives' majority leader, Rep. Steve Court (R-Mesa), passed through the state commerce committee last week along party lines. Court could not be reached for comment. According to an article by Arizona's Cronkite News Service, Court said at a recent hearing that the minimum wage for teenagers is "causing employers to employ fewer people. It also makes us a lot less competitive."

The amendment to the Arizona legislation is similar to a proposal in the Florida legislature, where the tourism and commerce committee is considering giving businesses the option of dropping the state minimum wage for servers, currently $4.65, in favor of the lower federal one of $2.13. However, if the employer opts for the lower wage and the employee doesn't earn at least $9.98 per hour after tips, the employer would have to make up the difference.

Since the proposal surfaced in the GOP-controlled legislature earlier this month, some Florida lawmakers and businesses have faced a backlash, with worker advocacy groups denouncing it as an attack on low-wage workers and a boon to the restaurant industry. Members of the Florida AFL-CIO have been leaving literature behind on restaurant tables to inform servers of the potential changes, and the group also put together a protest outside an Outback Steakhouse in Miami Lakes. Organizers encouraged attendees to dress in 1980's garb to mock a minimum wage they described as being from an earlier era.

Outback Steakhouse's parent company, OSI Restaurant Partners, supports the Florida measure, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The Tampa-based company, which counts Carrabba's Italian Grill and Bonefish Grill among its holdings, gave more than $120,000 last year to 32 Republicans running for state office.

Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, told The Huffington Post in a statement that the proposal under consideration has been mischaracterized. "There appears to be confusion as to the legislation," said Dover, whose trade group supports the proposal. "No one is having their wages cut. Employees are being guaranteed 130% of the state minimum wage if the employer elects to offer that option."

But Rich Templin, legislative and political director of the Florida AFL-CIO, argues that the measure would simply let employers save money at workers' expense.

"We believe that many people in the legislature, from both sides of the aisle, once they understand what it's about will not be supportive of this," says Templin. "It really is a pretty despicable idea."

 
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