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St. Pete to raise minimum wage to $12.50

— The city and its employees’ union have agreed to implement a $12.50-per-hour minimum wage that Mayor Rick Kriseman proposed for city workers, with an eye toward reaching $15 per hour.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Rick Smith of the Florida Public Service Union, which represents about 1,280 city employees.

Smith on Monday called the agreement a first step toward moving lower-paid employees closer to a livable wage the union has been seeking since contract negotiations began in June. “Our goal is to move to $15 over the next two years,” he said.

The tentative, three-year agreement announced Monday must be ratified in the coming weeks by union members and the St. Petersburg City Council.

Once done, it will increase wages for about 70 city workers who currently earn less than $12.50 as of Dec. 29. It also provides for 2 percent annual increases for hourly employees who have reached the maximum salary in their positions, and it continues step and merit increases, Smith said.

At $12.50, the city will be well above the state minimum wage of $7.93 per hour. Most of the city’s lowest-paid workers earn between $9 and $11 per hour, Smith said, and more than 300 make below $15 per hour.

“It is significant,” Smith said of the wage package. “Hopefully, it brought some people out of poverty.”

Kriseman announced his intention to implement the $12.50 wage in October, not long after President Obama mandated companies working on federal contracts to pay a minimum wage of $10.10, saying it would make life easier for the city’s low-wage earners.

“This agreement demonstrates the city’s commitment to our employees, that this will be a city of opportunity while maintaining our high level of fiscal accountability to our citizens,” Kriseman said in a written statement released Monday.

Pay increases for the workers below $12.50, including library assistants, sanitation workers, custodians and laborers, will cost the city about $125,000. Increases for other union workers comes to about $715,000. The increases are covered in the 2015 budget.

Council Chairman Bill Dudley said he has mixed feelings about the wage increases.

“I’m a free-market guy,” he said. “I understand about the livable wage, but I’m kind of in flux here. How do you pick $12.50? Why not $12? Why not $11?”

Dudley wondered about employees already making $12.50 or $15 through raises and merit pay, and what it means to them. “Are they going to get step increases, also?” he said.

“But the mayor, that’s his decision and I’m sure it’s going to go forward,” he said. “If they negotiated that, it’s a good day for them.”

Smith also was pleased the agreement eliminates the requirement for job applicants to disclose whether they have a criminal record, similar to what the city of Tampa has done. The move is intended to make it easier for those with a criminal record to gain employment. Applicants for public safety positions and other sensitive jobs still must undergo a background check as required by law.

Smith and Kriseman said the pact is an example of the city and union working together for the benefit of employees.

“It is good to work with an administration that speaks the same language. It was really a good-faith effort to make this move,” Smith said.

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