BROOKSVILLE — President Obama in February raised the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.
Since January, 10 states have raised the minimum wage and Democrats — supporting Obama’s insistence that the nation must act on income inequality — have made the matter a priority this election year.
Joe Lemieux, president of the Hernando County Democratic Club, also is on board with the plan and his group has scheduled a rally for Labor Day to promote a $10.10 minimum wage for this area.
Lemieux said all political parties are invited to the Sept. 1 event to air their views on the wage hike or other issues facing Hernando County. The event is slated for 1 to 4 p.m. at Delta Woods Park, off Deltona Boulevard in Spring Hill.
“It’s next to impossible for anyone to exist on $7.25 an hour,” Lemieux said. “If you’re a waiter or waitress making $4 an hour, it makes it even more difficult.”
Lemieux said the “Wage Wars in the Park” rally will be nonpartisan because it’s not about politics.
“I think it’s more of a moral issue,” he said. “It’s how we treat each other and how we care for one another.”
Critics say employers will be forced to lay off employees or raise prices on goods.
But Lemieux said he has researched the matter and in every state that has raised the minimum wage, the economy has improved through more employee hiring.
“It’s kind of an excuse that doesn’t hold up,” he said. “Raising the minimum wage helps to raise the economy.”
Steve Zeledon, chairman of the Hernando County Democratic Executive Committee, said his group fully supports Lemieux’s rally. “We’re planning to make a real blast of it,” he said.
Zeledon said local corporations are making record profits and can afford to pay employees more.
The minimum wage in Florida is $7.93 per hour. Tipped employees make $4.91 an hour. Both groups of employees saw the minimum wage rise 14 cents on Jan. 1.
Of the 37,100 people employed in Hernando County, a minimum of 9,000 (or one of every four workers) earns less than $10.10 per hour, according to data from Florida’s Department of Revenue.
The average annual salary in Hernando County is $31,952, or $15.36 per hour.
Zeledon said employees who work at least 40 hours a week should be able to afford basic living expenses, such as rent and food.
Most employers, he said, are forcing workers to survive on government assistance, and taxpayers end up subsidizing those welfare and food stamp benefits, Zeledon said.
Zeledon said rally organizers are working on logistics of the rally but hope to have food and beverages — and possibly entertainment — available for those who attend. Zeledon said he is speaking with the AFL-CIO and hopes its representatives will attend.
John Mitten, franchise operator of the Chick-fil-A restaurant on State Road 50, said he tries to pay his 50-plus employees more than the current $7.93 an hour minimum wage. But he said raising the minimum to $10.10 means he either would have to place more work responsibilities on existing workers or pass on the costs to patrons. Both are options Mitten said he would rather avoid.
“The whole idea of a living wage is a misnomer,” Mitten said.
Rather, he said supporters of a minimum wage hike are asking for competitive wages, which is difficult to attain because wages will be competitively different depending on the type of job and geographical location.
“A teacher at a local public school will receive a wage different from a professor at a research facility,” Mitten said.
And who, Mitten said, would decide what income parameters certain employees will make?
“To think that government could prescribe a minimum standard of living that is right for someone, I think is significantly stretching the Constitution,” Mitten said. “The reason why we have so many people coming to America over the border is because of the prosperity that is in America.”
Dave Hamilton, operations manager with the Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board, said he doesn’t know if a hike in the county’s minimum wage would be good or bad for the local economy.
“It would be a big ripple effect if a quarter of the population received a pay raise,” Hamilton said. “And then what about the individual earning $10.40 an hour? Would he turn around and say, ‘I’m only making 30 cents more than the minimum?’”
“I’m not saying that’s good or bad,” he said. “The more people earn, the more people spend. We are an economy based on consumption. The more money that is put into the economy, the better we are.”
But Hamilton said it is possible product prices would increase because of wage pressures.