When Robby Matheny began working for Gainesville Regional Utilities in 1993, he was digging ditches for $6.61 per hour.
Nearly three decades later, Gainesville’s living wage ordinance will ensure GRU and other city employees earn at least $13.75, or just about double Matheny’s original hourly rate.
It’s Gainesville’s way of keeping up with inflation, Matheny said in a phone interview. He is now a steward for the Communications Workers of America union representing workers at GRU, where he has advanced as a shift supervisor position at the Deerhaven Generating Station.
The hourly wage increase from $13.25 to $13.75 is the third phase of the city’s plan to eventually raise city employees’ minimum wage to $15, according to the city’s current budget.
City spokesperson Shelby Taylor wrote in an emailed statement that, “increases associated with the bump will add more than $1,000 to the annual pay,” for affected employees.
They include 204 of the lowest paid temporary employees and Communications Workers of America employees.
The wage bump has already been implemented for employees represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union, Taylor wrote. Thirty-four of the lowest paid transit operators have already been affected. In total, only about 10% of employees will be affected by the latest wage bump.
Employees of the Gainesville Police Department and the Gainesville Fire Rescue will not be affected by the latest wage bump because their salaries are already more than the bump, according to Taylor and GPD Chief Inspector Jorge Campos.
In a meeting on Jan. 23, the City of Gainesville’s general policy committee — comprised of the seven city commissioners — discussed applying the living wage requirements to city contractors and examined the potential impacts the living wage ordinance might have, including the effects on small businesses.
Before the meeting, City Commissioner Harvey Ward wrote in a Facebook post, “We have a current policy on this, but there are far too many loopholes in my opinion.”
“This speaks directly to income inequality in our city and our region,” he said.
Throughout the almost 28 years Matheny has worked for GRU, he said it has always been a stable job. In his time with the company, he has progressed from digging ditches, to turning wastewater into drinking water, to working in power systems as he does today.
Matheny said there were some initial worries that the living ordinance would lead to some positions being cut, but so far, he said that has not been the case.
He said it has made it a little harder to hire people with no experience, due to the increased minimum wage they needed to be paid for training.
At the same time, Matheny continued, the living wage ordinance ensures city employees will be able to cover their basic needs.
Commissioner David Arreola said in a phone interview that even though the city does not have the power to implement a city-wide minimum wage, he hopes the living wage ordinance will set an example for Gainesville businesses to raise their employees’ salaries.