Florida’s minimum wage will increase from $7.25 to $7.31 per hour effective June 1a result of a successful constitutional challenge filed in January by farm, restaurant, nursery and service employees, as well as day laborers and other low-wage workers.

The lawsuit was filed in January by several individuals and workers’ organizations, represented by the National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services, against the Agency for Workforce Innovation because the department did not raise the state’s minimum wage to reflect inflation, ignored its legally mandated duty to publish minimum wage rates for 2010 and 2011, and calculated those rates internally but got them wrong.

The circuit court for Leon County decision — issued early May 2 — states that the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation cannot decrease the state’s minimum wage rate, and orders the agency to immediately publish notice of the minimum wage rate for 2011. (Read the full decision below.)

Robby Cunningham, communications director for the Agency for Workforce Innovation, responded in an email to The Florida Independent that “the Agency for Workforce Innovation is surprised and disappointed at the judge’s ruling in the minimum wage lawsuit. However, we respect the judge’s order and effective June 1, 2011, Florida’s minimum wage will be $7.31 per hour.”

According to a press release issued Wednesday by the Florida Wage Theft Task Force:

“This will result in over $28 million more earned and spent in the local economy this year by the lowest-paid of Florida’s workforce,” said Jose Rodriguez, an attorney with Florida Legal Services who worked on the lawsuit. Rodriguez added, “This is an opportunity for Florida to make an overdue commitment on behalf of working Floridians to ensure that the minimum wage is complied with.” Florida’s Attorney General has had the statutory authority to enforce the minimum wage since 2004 but to the present has yet to use that authority. Moreover very little of Florida’s workforce is even aware that they can complain to the Florida AG if they’ve been underpaid.

Rodriguez tells the Independent that after the latest legislative session, which he says was harsh on working families, “it is great that working families get a break albeit small. Those who are earning the minimum wage are those who sustain our economy — those that clean our hotels, the security guards in our office buildings, folks making sure that agricultural produce gets sold and put on our tables. We are talking about the absolute lowest wage that someone can earn, and every little bit helps.”

Rodriguez says that the most important economic sectors in Florida like tourism, agriculture and the retail industry depend heavily on low-wage labor.

“The lawsuit was about the agency artificially depressing the minimum wage by 15 cents, so while there is an increase this year of 6 cents, if it wasn’t for the lawsuit we probably wouldn’t have an increase next year and possibly even in 2013 either,” Rodriguez says.

Cadet v AWI Final Order _2 May 2011_

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