The Alachua County Labor Coalition saw a victory last Thursday when the Alachua County Commission moved to pass a new living wage ordinance, but the coalition has bigger plans.
The group is working to get the county’s top 10 employers to pay a wage of $14.57 per hour by 2020. The ordinance discussed last week would only affect Alachua County employees and workers for businesses that receive county contracts.
The employers the coalition is focusing on are:
- University of Florida
- Alachua County School Board
- Veterans Affairs Medical Center
- City of Gainesville
- Publix Supermarkets
- North Florida Regional Medical Center
- Gator Dining Services
- Nationwide Insurance Company
- Wal-Mart Stores
Jeremiah Tattersall, lead organizer of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, said the group is targeting the City of Gainesville, the Alachua County School Board, Publix Supermarkets and other local agencies and organizations.
Tattersall, 29, said the group plans on getting employers to phase in a raise to the minimum wage over the next five years. The coalition wants employers to increase the wage to $12.24 an hour by the end of the year, but if that’s not possible for some, they’re calling for a $11.66 minimum wage, which is 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
“Some places are being very responsive to this call, and some places have ignored us completely,” Tattersall said.
The City of Gainesville and the Alachua County School Board have been the most supportive, Tattersall said. Others, like Publix, have been unresponsive.
The media and community relations manager for Publix Super Markets, Dwaine Stevens, wrote in an email that Publix has and will always continue to comply with federal, state and local wage laws.
This year the coalition plans on working mostly with the city, the county commission, the University of Florida, the school board and UF Health Shands Hospital. They plan to meet with student groups and faculty at UF before the semester ends to adopt a similar policy to their proposed living wage ordinance.
“The other companies we definitely want to work with and open up a dialogue,” Tattersall said.
The City of Gainesville’s current wage ordinance sets the minimum wage at $11.66 an hour, and the coalition plans on proposing changes to it so it will increase to $12.24 in 2016, $12.82 in 2017, $13.41 in 2018, $13.99 in 2019 and $14.57 by 2020.
Tattersall said this proposed change to the city’s ordinance will affect 436 employees. He said he hasn’t seen much opposition to the coalition’s plans.
“Nobody says that people who work for a living don’t deserve a living wage,” he said.
Benefits of increasing the minimum wage include increases in productivity and employee morale and a decrease in turnover, Tattersall said.
He said the community also benefits from a wage increase. A 2011 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago revealed that for every dollar increased in a low-wage worker’s pay, that worker’s spending in the community goes up by $3,500 the following year.
Michael Walker, a 31-year-old Gainesville resident, worked an overnight job at Wal-Mart in 2013 so he could look after his then 2-year-old daughter during the day.
He said at the time he could not afford daycare.
Walker said he was paid $9 an hour and got about four hours of sleep on the days he had to work — about five days a week.
“I was so exhausted that the television became the parent a lot of the time,” he said. “You start to see her love for you kind of dwindle, which was deeply frustrating and created a lot of anger in me.”
Walker said he took the job out of economic desperation, and many of his coworkers were in similar positions.
“The unaffordability of early child care and the low wages really kind of tears apart families,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people understand that.”
Erica Jones, senior manager of communications at Wal-Mart, declined to comment on the coalition’s plan to phase in a higher minimum wage in an email.
Walker said he supports the coalition’s plans because he believes in equal opportunity.
“Resources matter when it comes to equal opportunity,” he said. “It’s hard for a kid to grow up properly when the parents are financially stressed.”
Sheila Payne, the Alachua County Labor Coalition’s membership coordinator, said Alachua County has the highest disparity in the state between the highest and lowest wages.
In a family of four, both parents would need to make $14.57 an hour to make a living wage, Payne said.
“It’s actually really expensive to live here,” she said. “You definitely can’t live on minimum wage.”