LIVING WAGE TASK FORCE HEARING-Andrew Stelzer

04/02/04

In may, the Hillsborough county commission will be deciding whether to create a standard living wage for county employees and people contracted by the county. Last year, the county decided to have a task force gather public input on the issue before they make their decision—the task force is holding 4 hearings to hear from concerned citizens. So far there have been three task force hearings on the living wage, at each hearing, at least a dozen citizens have spoken in favor of a living wage, and last night was no different. Over 20 people spoke in favor of higher wages, many of them for very personal reasons.

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The campaign for a living wage has been organized by citizens and community groups throughout the county; the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality Currently, abbreviated HOPE, is leading the campaign and has been organizing community members to come and speak at the task force herrings. The federal minimum wage is set at 5.15 per hour. For a single person who earns minimum wages, they end up earning 3000 dollars less than the federal poverty line. Accounting for inflation, the federal minimum wage reached its peak in 1968, according to the coalition for human needs. Since then prices have risen, but the minimum wage has not kept pace. If it had, it would be 8 dollars and 46 cents, according to the AFL-CIO.

Hillsborough county’s living wage, if adopted, would apply only to county employees and people contracted by the county; that’s because of a state law which prohibits local governments from setting a wage that applies to non-government businesses—only the federal government can do that. Even if the task force recommends a living wage, and the county approves it, there will be more public hearing to decide what level it will be set at. They will be considering two different amounts. Either 7.33 per hour and 9.33 per hour for people who do not get health insurance through their employer, or 9.97 per hour, and 11.97 per hour for people who didn’t get health coverage along with their job.

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The Hillsborough chamber of commerce has been one of the opponents of the living wage, claiming that it will harm business-one member of the 6 person task force is a member of the chamber of commerce. Susan Ketterer works with the homeless; she says that there are two members of the task force who have said they are in opposition to the living wage, but the other 4 members leanings are unknown.

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After the final hearing next week, the task force will make recommendations to the count based on both the hearings outside research they do themselves. David Rogoff, the chair of the task force and a health and human services employee of Hillsborough County, said that they have heard several arguments against the living wage. He did not mention ho many people testified against the living wage, advocates said only one man had done so.

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The 4th and last task force hearing on the living wage proposal will be held on April 6th at the West Tampa Neighborhood Service Center, 2103 N. Rome Ave. For more information, call Toni Beddingfield at (813) 272-5275.

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