Florida sued for failing to raise minimum wage

Published: Monday, January 10, 2011 at 5:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 10, 2011 at 5:02 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Two legal groups sued Florida's labor agency Monday, claiming the state failed to raise the state's minimum wage by six cents per hour this year to keep up with inflation.

The lawsuit claimed the Agency for Workforce Innovation violated the Florida Constitution by keeping it at the $7.25 federal rate, where it was last year, instead of raising it to $7.31 on Jan. 1.

About 188,000 minimum wage workers could be effected. At stake is up to $128 this year for a full-time employee working a 40-hour week. If all those the minimum-wage employees worked 40-hour weeks the extra six cents would add up to $15 million.

"Unlike higher wage-earners, those at the lowest end of the scale tend to spend rather than put away additional earnings, meaning that any added income goes directly into Florida's economy," Jose Javier Rodriguez of Florida Legal Services said in a statement. "This is not a partisan or political issue. When it comes to our prosperity, it's a 'no-brainer.'"

His organization and the National Employment Law Project filed the lawsuit on behalf of four individual workers and three organizations that represent low-wage employees: the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami, WeCount! in Homestead and the Farmworker Association of Florida in Apopka.

An agency spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The suit noted seven other states with similar laws increased their minimum wages on New Year's Day. They are Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

The state Supreme Court said in an advisory opinion that Florida's constitutional amendment, which passed in 2004, does not provide for decreases in minimum wage because of deflation.

Yet, the suit alleges, the agency cut the minimum wage in 2010 to $7.06 an hour from the previous year's $7.21 and failed to publicly announce its calculations as required by law.

Florida workers avoided the reduction because Congress passed a minimum wage law requiring $7.25 per hour.

The suit alleges the agency miscalculated the rate this year as $7.16 per hour, still below the federal minimum, based on its erroneous $7.06 rate last year. The plaintiffs contend the agency instead should have calculated this year's state minimum wage off the federal rate.

They said the agency's internal memos acknowledged the Supreme Court's ruling and expressed worries that a decrease would be illegal.

Florida's rates are based on annual changes in the non-seasonally adjusted Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers in the southern region.

Rodgriguez said Gov. Rick Scott should correct the agency's refusal to follow the constitution as part of his freeze of rule-making and review of existing regulations. Scott ordered the freeze and review upon taking office last week. He wants to weed out regulations that hamper businesses as part of his push to create new jobs.

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