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The South Florida Roundup

Potential pay raises in Broward, Miami-Dade's Heat Season, and unionizing in South Florida

Carline Jean
South Florida Sun Sentinel
County Commission Mark Bogen has a heated exchange with Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony during a County Commission meeting on Tuesday to discuss the sheriff's proposed fixes to a staffing crisis at the 911 call centers.

911 workers in Broward may see immediate pay raises soon, Miami-Dade's first Heat Season is underway, and a Starbucks unionizing in South Florida may be a sign of an upward trend.

Three weeks ago, a Sun-Sentinel investigation showed that thousands of 911 calls have gone unanswered in Broward County. According to this investigation the number of abandoned calls has risen over the past three years.

Two weeks ago, Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said on the South Florida Roundup that they’ve been losing emergency dispatchers and call-takers because they’ve been unable to raise salaries.

At a Broward County Commission meeting held last week, emergency dispatchers and call-takers may receive immediate pay raises to combat this. However, this may only help with one aspect of a much larger problem.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, the commissioners informally agreed that giving emergency dispatchers raises was necessary to alleviate the problem. They will receive a proposal at the next meeting on May 24 to increase 911 communications worker salaries immediately, at a cost of $4.75 million.

Brittany Wallman, investigative editor for the Sun-Sentinel, said that the salary difference between dispatchers in Broward and Palm Beach County is a key issue.

“It’s not just in 911, but so many industries have had the great resignation where people are quitting,” she said.

Wallman said the salaries for dispatchers in Broward County starts just short of $38,000 up to $72,000. In Palm Beach County, however, the salaries start at $51,000, and they don’t receive as many calls as Broward does.

Even though the commissioners at the meeting agree on immediate pay raises, some also believe that some of the issues stem from how Sheriff Tony and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office manage the call centers.

Commissioner Mark Bogen said the county should end the contract with BSO to run the system, and they should give it to an experienced leader to run it. Sheriff Tony believes that the county should give full custody of 911 over to BSO.

“I think they’re going to need to decide should the county take this over and get the sheriff out of the picture, or should the sheriff take over and get the county out of the picture?” Wallman said.

Miami-Dade’s Heat Season is underway

South Florida – it’s now time to wave goodbye to the cool winter months and say hi to the heat. Miami-Dade County has declared the first-ever Heat Season on May 1st – which will run through the end of October.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava made that announcement last October at a United Nations climate summit in Scotland.

It’s the first-ever heat season declared in the United States in response to the fact that as global warming becomes more of an inescapable reality — the days are indeed getting hotter.

Jane Gilbert, Miami-Dade County’s first Chief Heat Officer, said that since 1985, we now have 40 more days a year on average with temperatures over 90 degrees.

“We’re expecting to have increases going forward at a much more high heat index,” she said. "Here in Miami, heat index, the combination of temperature and humidity, is a very important factor because the humidity makes it harder for us to regulate heat.”

WeCount! is an agricultural workers advocacy group based out of Homestead, and they represent outdoor workers that are exposed to such extreme heat. These workers include landscapers, farmers, plant nursery workers, construction workers and more.

Oscar Londoño, the executive director of WeCount!, said they launched a campaign last year called “Que Calor,” after years of hearing reports from farmworkers and plant nursery workers. They’ve been receiving reports from these workers for years, hearing that they’re fainting and getting extremely dizzy on the job and that they weren’t being offered basic protections like water, shade and rest.

MC Image Productions
Farmworkers and construction workers marching in Downtown Miami to demand water, shade, and rest for outdoor workers in South Florida on May 1st.

The rising temperatures in Miami-Dade County don’t just stem from climate change but our development patterns as well. Gilbert said that places with fewer tree canopies and more impervious surfaces — areas and structures that have material that doesn’t allow water to hit the soil, such as asphalt — have hotter land surface temperatures. There can be a ten-degree difference between neighborhoods.

“There’s a lot we can do at the county and city levels to increase our tree canopy, maintain the tree canopy that we have to create cooler surfaces,” she said.

To manage the heat, the county is working on getting the word out on how people can protect themselves. They are working with WeCount! to get the word out to outdoor workers, as they are so much more exposed than others to the extreme heat.

Londoño is hoping workers in the county and the state can get legal protections that have been passed in states like California and Oregon. These laws provide basic protections that make sure outdoor workers have education on the risks of heat, access to drinking water that is safe and cool, and rest periods, so they don’t overheat.

Lazaro Suarez
Farmworkers and construction workers marching through Downtown Miami to demand water, shade, and rest for outdoor workers in South Florida on May 1

“We believe that Miami-Dade County can actually pass a first of its kind county-wide heat standard for outdoor workers, which would replicate some of the same best practices we’ve seen in other states.”

Potential trend as Miami Springs Starbucks unionized 

The percentage of workers in the United States that are represented by a union, last year hit the lowest point it’s ever had since the government started tracking it, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unions represent about half the percentage of workers they represented four decades ago.

A recent wave of unionization efforts has been sweeping the country, impacting huge corporations like Apple, Amazon and Starbucks.

The first Starbucks to win its vote to unionize in South Florida happened this week at a shop in Miami Springs. And several other stores have recently won elections in Florida.

Christian Miranda is an employee at the Starbucks in Miami Springs. He said he and his co-workers were pushed to unionize due to what they felt were declining working conditions and continually increasing workloads throughout the pandemic.

“A conversation that we have all the time is the idea that this is a multi-billion dollar company, a multi-billion dollar international company at that, that has seen the biggest profit margins that it has ever seen in its history,” he said.

“And we’re still making what's soon to be minimum wage in Florida.”

32BJ-SEIU represents workers in the property services industry. This includes janitors, security officers, those who clean the inside of airplanes, and more.

Janitors and union activists marching in front of the Downtown Doral Office Complex on May 5

The industries these workers reside in have been growing exponentially, but as of three years ago, the janitors that cleaned the luxury buildings in downtown were the lowest-paid janitors in the United States.

Helene O’ Brian, the Florida director of 32BJ-SEIU, said they’ve helped these janitors organize, unionize and win a $2 raise by October, five paid days off for the first time, and more increases for next year.

Helene O'Brien and Janitors March.jpg
Helene O'Brien, Florida director of 32BJ SEIU, marches with janitors in front of the Downtown Doral Office complex on May 5

O’ Brien believes that the political and legal conditions for organizing unions in Florida are difficult because there simply aren’t many people in unions.

She said that about 94% of workers in Florida are not in a union, and many people don’t know someone that is in a union, which means that it's hard to know what a union is.

However, Miranda believes that we will see more talk and buzz around unions as time goes on.

“It’s definitely something I think a lot of people are having conversations about,” he said.

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Natu Tweh is producer of The Florida Roundup and The South Florida Roundup at WLRN.