A living wage in Alachua County

by Jeremiah Tattersall and Alachua County Labor Coalition

The Alachua County Labor Coalition has been hard at work campaigning to raise workers wages across the County.

The living wage campaign, launched in August 2015, has the ambitious goal of getting the 10 largest employers in Alachua County to pay a living wage by 2020. In the past seven months we were able to help pressure the University of Florida and the Alachua County Commission to raise their starting wage to $12 an hour. These raises directly affected over 500 workers and will put over $1.5 million back into our local economy this year.

Currently the campaign is focusing on passing strong living wage ordinances for the Alachua County Commission and the City of Gainesville. We’ve met with dozens of organizations, lobbied our elected officials, held demonstrations, and now we’re ready for our first official victory! On March 8, the Alachua County Commission will have the first of two votes on a proposed living wage ordinance. This ordinance would directly affect over 100 workers and over $7 million in County contracts. We have a majority of the Commission supporting an ordinance, the only question now is how robust will this ordinance be.

We’re seeking a strong ordinance that:

• Will peg the starting wage for all workers to 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (currently $14.60 an hour).

• Has no exemptions or loopholes for businesses that contract with the County.

• Does not penalize businesses that provide health insurance to their workers by creating wage levels with and without healthcare costs added in.

Getting a strong ordinance will depend on how much community support the Commission sees. You can show your support by emailing the commission at bocc@alachuacounty.us and by making your voice heard at the Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 8, at 5:30 pm at 12 SE 1st St.

The City of Gainesville is also moving forward with updating their ordinance to reflect these demands. The City’s current ordinance has three main issues:

• Its starting wage of $11.66 an hour is a poverty wage, not a living wage. This needs to be increased to $14.60 an hour.

• Its exemptions are so broad and abused that 99.95 percent of all contracts for Fiscal Year 2015 were exempt. These loopholes need to be closed.

• The required living wage level paid for employers that do not provide healthcare is less than half the actual cost of providing healthcare. This has the effect of incentivizing companies to not provide healthcare to their workforce, as it is cheaper to pay the non-healthcare wage than it is to actually provide healthcare.

In the coming months City staff will bring findings to the Legislative and Organizational Policy Committee for review. We hope to have an ordinance voted on by the full City Commission by September.

We are also looking at implementing pro living wage policies at Sante Fe College and the University of Florida as part of our campaign to have the 10 largest employers in the County pay a living wage by 2020.

To find out more about our campaign for a living wage please go to http://laborcoalition.org/. D

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