Minimum wage increase impact small for Manatee employers

mjohnson@bradenton.comJanuary 3, 2014 

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Rene Button, a server at Fav's Italian Cucina, serves lunch to Ryan McDonald. With this week's increase in the minimum wage, both tipped and regular-wage workers will earn 14 cents more per hour. MATT M. JOHNSON/Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- A 14-cent increase in Florida's minimum wage probably won't have much impact on the state's lowest-earning workers, but it definitely has some local employers thinking about larger increases looming down the road.

The minimum wage eked up to $7.93 Wednesday for regular wage earners, and $4.91 for tipped employees. Florida's minimum wage is tied to the Consumer Price Index, which showed a 2-percent increase in 2013.

Manatee employers viewed the increase largely in the context of much higher minimum wages in other states. Washington state's minimum wage rose to $9.32 at the start of the year, while San Jose and San Francisco rates are already at or more than $10.

Maria Favasuli, co-owner of Fav's Italian Cucina in Bradenton, said Florida's 2014 increase works for her business, but a big jump would not. Some employees work at the minimum wage for tipped employees, which jumped from $4.77 to $4.91.

"You gotta keep with the times and cost of things," she said. "But don't put the little

places out of business."

The increase is small in terms of dollars and cents. For a 40-hour week, it adds up to $5.60. It is so small Suncoast Workforce didn't address it internally. Sally Hill, communications director for the Manatee and Sarasota county employment agency, said almost all the jobs it fills for employers pay more than the minimum wage.

For workers who do earn minimum wage, the increase will do little to change their lives.

"It isn't significant enough for anyone to earn an income that can sustain their families," she said.

Most employers don't pay that little anyway. Bradenton-based retailer Bealls reports fewer than 1 percent of its 17-state workforce earn minimum wage.

Bill Webster, Bealls' director of public and government affairs, said sales is the only place where the 534-store company might be affected by the wage hike.

"If there's more money in the economy, we may see more in sales," he said.

One regional business owner has planned around the increase: Tampa-based Dunkin' Donuts franchisee Velocity Brands.

Steve Galloway, Velocity president, said competition for fast-food employees already forces stores like his to pay an average wage higher than the minimum. Dunkin' Donuts pays minimum wage only for trainees.

Because new employees are now more expensive on an hourly basis, Velocity's 21 restaurants -- including one that opened last week in Bradenton -- will be more choosy about hiring. Store managers don't want to invest in training an employee who won't make it through a two- to three-week training period, Galloway said.

"It forces us to take a closer look at applicants," he said.

Of greatest concern to employers are big future jumps in the wage. Galloway said a jump to a $10 minimum would cause Dunkin' Donuts to use less labor and increase prices.

As it is, he said, Velocity plans for higher wages for those working above the minimum so they don't fall behind. That will lead to a noticeable wage outlay across its 400-employee workforce.

From the worker's side, the increase is welcome, if a bit underwhelming. Rene Button, a server at Fav's, said it will be nice to see her wage go up, but tips remain the determining factor in her earnings.

Earning the regular minimum wage without tips, she said, would be a stretch.

"I don't know how people do it," she said.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941.745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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