The subject of a "living wage" is now an issue for the City of St. Petersburg. The Florida Public Services Union is requesting a minimum hourly wage of $15, which it estimates would cost the city an additional $1 million a year.
According to FPSU chief of staff Rick Smith, 308 people, or 24 percent of the city's civilian work force, earn less than $15 an hour. Police officers and firefighters have separate bargaining units; the FPSU represents all other non-executive employees.
Smith told FOX 13 News the years of wage freezes that followed the Great Recession have "...really squeezed workers down to the point where they're like, I'm not middle class anymore. I have officially dropped out and I don't know what to do."
A spokesman for Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city will not comment with negotiations underway, but pointed out any wage increases will have to be settled quickly: the administration must submit a proposed budget by July 1st.
Smith said the request was made in St. Petersburg because it is in good financial shape compared to other Florida governments. He also cited "a progressive mayor" and the potential "political will" of the city council.
Ironically, the council exhibited some support of the general idea of a "living wage" earlier this year. When St. Petersburg-based C1 Bank raised its minimum wage to $14 an hour, it received a city award. Before handing over a plaque, councilman Wengay Newton said "That's the echo, every time we say economic development, I hear living wage jobs, living wage jobs."
Moments later, addressing C1 Bank CEO Trevor Burgess, Newton said "Hopefully we'll encourage or shame other people into doing the same thing."
At the same April 10th awards presentation, councilman Karl Nurse said he was reading a book on the subject.
"The dominant business model has been to pay as little as you can," Nurse said. "But the problem is you get the least [employees] can give."
Councilwoman Amy Foster quoted another elected leader.
"Mayor Kriseman often says that the budget is a reflection of our values, which is true," Foster said, although she was clearly talking about the bank's budget, not the city's.
Burgess told FOX 13 News Monday bank employees are still proud of the wage adjustment, which only affected a couple of dozen employees.
However, unexpectedly, "The second reaction we've had is from a large number of new customers who've decided to bank with us and who have explicitly told us that they were coming to bank with us because of our living wage," Burgess said.
Asked about the city's wages and the union request, Burgess said "I'll leave that decision to the politicians."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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