State workers and their supporters hold a rally for pay raises, on Dec. 18, 2019. Credit: Lloyd Dunkelberger
The Florida Senate on Friday announced a plan to raise the minimum wage for state employees to $15 an hour, an initiative led by Senate President Wilton Simpson, who also wants to hike pay for school bus drivers and other school vendors.
In a written statement Friday, Simpson said the next state budget should reward school personnel, health care workers, and caregivers “who serve Floridians who are sick, elderly or have a disability, and those work with at-risk children in our criminal justice system.”
“From school bus drivers to maintenance and cafeteria workers to voluntary prekindergarten staff, every employee in our education system will be making at least a $15 per hour wage,” said Simpson, a Republican representing Citrus, Hernando, and part of Pasco counties.
“Florida has a job for anyone who wants one, and I am pleased to see the Senate make good on its commitment to implement a $15 per hour wage years in advance of the constitutional timeline.”
Florida voters passed an amendment to boost the minimum wage in increments until it reaches $15 per hour in 2026. Florida workers had seen an increase in minimum wage from $8.65 to $10 an hour in late September of 2021 — the first phase of a wage hike connected to a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2020.
Union leaders argue that increasing the starting pay for low-paid state workers could help alleviate staffing shortages at agencies by attracting new workers.
That said, AFSCME Florida is pushing for pay raises for seasoned state workers, as well. In late January, officials from several state agencies testified during a Senate committee meeting that higher paying jobs in the private sector that opened up during the COVID-19 pandemic have “exacerbated hiring problems” for the state government, according to a Tallahassee Democrat report.
“Senate President Simpson’s $15 per hour is a good place to start and across-the-board increases can help reward longevity to retain experienced, caring workers who have expertise in their professions and provide valuable services in our communities,” Vicki Hall, president of AFSCME Florida, said in an email to the Phoenix.
“Starting pay is critical to set the floor for state workers. State management has recognized severe staffing shortages due to a flood of better-paying positions in the private sector.”
Last year, Simpson led efforts for wage increases and vowed to “further enhance the minimum wage for state workers” during remarks on the first day of the 2022 legislative session.
In fact, state workers’ hourly minimum wage had increased to $13 an hour last year, according to a report from Florida Politics.
The increases proposed in the Senate’s draft state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 would cost $1 billion, according to Senate spokeswoman Katherine Betta.
“With businesses across the state working to implement the minimum wage amendment passed by Florida voters, President Simpson feels strongly that state government should lead by example and work to implement a $15 per hour wage in advance of the timelines in the constitution,” Betta said in an email.
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