Over the last several decades, weak federal and state laws have failed to protect low-wage working people from wage stagnation and rising living costs. Communities have responded by passing local living wage laws, which require private businesses benefitting from public money to pay a livable wage to their workforce. Public dollars should be leveraged for the public good rather than subsidizing poverty-wage work in janitorial services, construction, or other such industries.  Labor, religious and community coalitions have won several strong living wage ordinances in South Florida. However, many localities have not yet passed such ordinances and without effective enforcement of existing ordinances even gains already made are under threat.

Staff of FLS and the Community Justice Project, as well as the Human Services Coalition, and the South Florida AFL-CIO founded and participated in the Community Coalition for a Living Wage (CCLW) to organize the community and mount a campaign to enact a living wage ordinance in Dade County. The Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously passed a living wage ordinance in 1999.

The ordinance provides that all County employees, employees of service providers who contract with the County, and employees of airport licensees must be paid at least $8.56/hour (now $10.27) with health benefits, and if no health benefits are provided, $9.81/hour (now $11.76). The living wage is adjusted annually with the CPI. 

This was the first living wage ordinance passed in Florida and the southeastern United States. As provided for in the ordinance, a commission has been established to review the implementation and compliance with the ordinance. FLS/CJP has been appointed to a seat on the Miami-Dade Living Wage Board and improvement and revision to the Ordinance have been initiated and made through this Board.  Thousands of workers have received pay increases of an average of $2.50/hour.

While the Coalition continues to pursue additional Living Wage Ordinances, more attention is being shifted to assuring proper implementation in both Miami Beach and the newly enacted City of Miami ordinance, which unlike Miami-Dade County do not have specific commissions to oversee implementation and enforcement. The Coalition also works to secure the implementation of living wage policies by non-profit organizations which do not fall under these ordinances. A number of non-profits in Miami-Dade County have agreed to comply, including St. Thomas University, which recently implemented a policy covering all of their workers and service contractors. This campaign also engaged funders to encourage them to include living wage policies as part of their funding criteria.

FLS/CJP also provided research and investigation support to Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami (ROC-Miami) which organizes low-wage restaurant workers to improve working conditions and combat racial discrimination in Miami’s restaurant industry.   

The Community Justice Project of FLS (CJP) provided detailed memorandum to ROC-Miami about the local and state regulatory structures overseeing the restaurant industry in Miami-Dade County. CJP has also been researching and writing a restaurant owner manual detailing the relevant labor laws and anti-discrimination laws which ROC-Miami hopes to distribute to restaurant owners once completed.