The folks at South Florida's fabled Jaxson's Ice Cream Parlour want to serve up some politics with that scoop of ice cream.
Calling it a "moment of introspection," the owners of the Dania Beach ice cream darling are raising the minimum wage of its employees to $10.10, the bump proposed by President Obama last month in his State of the Union address.
The pay raise, which mostly will affect busboys and weekend workers, starts Feb. 24, the day longtime owner Monroe Udell turns 86 years old.
"We were thinking, 'What would it be like to try and live on $8 an hour?' '' Jaxson's general manager Jerry Smith, who has managed the store for 15 years, said of the restaurant's typical starting wage. "We are witnesses to their daily struggles."
Florida's minimum wage rose to $7.93 on Jan. 1. Smith said it normally would take about five years for an employee to earn a $2 pay hike.
Udell has run the iconic store at 128 S. Federal Highway since 1956. His daughter, Linda Zakheim, is a co-owner and their employees always have been important to them. When they considered the financial impact of raising their entry-level wage from $8 an hour, they decided they could afford it.
More than 70 employees — including waiters, waitresses, busboys and fountain workers — will receive pay of at least $10.10 an hour. Jaxson's also will make up the difference for tipped employees whose wages fall below that threshold.
Long-time employees like Liz Lindauer, a waitress at Jaxson's for almost nine years, already make more than $10.10 an hour. Still, Lindauer thinks Jaxson's pledge is important in proving to other small businesses that it can be done.
Florida's minimum wage is 68 cents higher than the federal minimum of $7.25, but that still leaves thousands of workers near the poverty line. A recent report by Florida International University's Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy said that 22.6 percent of the state's population is poor and in or near poverty.
Mason Jackson, president of Broward's employment agency CareerSource Broward, said he has not heard of any other business pledging to pay $10.10 an hour minimum. "But in every movement,'' he said, "there has to be one or two people to step up first. I applaud Jaxson's for taking that role."
Still, he points out even $10.10 an hour doesn't have much buying power, especially in pricey South Florida. Since it was last raised to $7.25 in 2009, the federal minimum has lost about 5.8 percent of its purchasing power to inflation, according to the Pew Research Center.
President Obama said he will use his executive power to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 for workers on new government contracts. The White House has proposed a gradual increase of the nation's minimum pay by 2016. More than a million Florida workers would benefit, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Jaxson's employees who have been with the store more than five years already earn $10.10 an hour or more, Smith said. But Smith said even high school students, who work for the store and restaurant during busy months, "deserve a fair wage."
Udell has a historical perspective as a Broward County business owner. When he founded the store, the hourly minimum wage was $1 and ice cream sundaes cost about 30 cents.
Smith said community and employee support has been Udell's philosophy in operating the store all these years. For example, the first employee Udell hired back in the '50s was a black woman, even though he was advised against doing so when he given a business license, Smith said.
"He was instructed very clearly because he had only one restroom," Smith said with disbelief.
Smith said the wage increase won't stop Jaxson's from hiring. The store and restaurant typically add more workers during the busier tourist season.
Lindauer, the head waitress, said she loves working at Jaxson's because it is unique among businesses today.
"It's a relaxed, family-like atmosphere" both for customers and employees, she said. "They actually care about what's happening in people's lives," she said.
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