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Kriseman's call for $15 minimum wage: A real proposal or political ploy?

Mayor Rick Kriseman said Thursday that he wants city workers to make at least $15 an hour by 2020.

Yet far from breaking the gridlock between the city and its workers, the announcement, which Kriseman tweeted, only further irritated members of the largest city union, who later walked out of a bargaining session when talks broke down.

The mayor is simply adopting a long-standing union proposal, said Rick Smith, chief of staff for the Florida Public Services Union. To make matters worse, Smith said, the administration is stonewalling labor proposals at the bargaining table.

The union has pushed for $15 an hour by 2020 for years, Smith said. But because of the scuttled negotiations, that proposal was left on the table as was a union proposal to tie worker raises to the property tax revenue.

Union officials won't resume contract negotiations until a representative from the mayor's office attends, Smith said. No date has been set for another meeting.

Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor isn't playing games.

"The mayor has a track record of being true to his word on this issue, and has already raised the minimum wage for city workers," Kirby said.

While establishing a higher minimum wage sounds bold, Kriseman's proposal is mostly symbolic.

Currently, only 39 of the city's 3,150 employees earn minimum wage, so the increase is estimated to cost $31,000 next year.

Last fall, Kriseman led a successful effort to raise the minimum wage for city workers to $12.50 an hour. In Kriseman's proposed budget, city workers will get a 3 percent raise. That would likely raise the city's minimum wage to $12.88 for 2016. Additional 3 percent or 4 percent annual raises will bring the wage floor to $15 an hour by 2020, said Chris Guella, the city's human resources director.

"The mayor decided he wants to do this so it's full steam ahead," Guella said. "This administration really wants to provide a living wage."

Other cities have adopted plans to raise their minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour. A national campaign has gained steam in recent months to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Council member Bill Dudley said he is reserving judgement on the measure for now.

"We'll need to vet that out," Dudley said. "It sounds like a great thing, it's humanitarian and all that stuff, but it could have some backlash."

Dudley said he was concerned that the wage hike could damage the city's finances and cause "ill feelings" among private sector workers who have difficult jobs but make far less money.

Kriseman's latest proposal comes less than a week after he announced a wish list of spending projects, including hiring a dozen new police officers and budgeting for a new recreation center in Shore Acres.

He said better-than-expected tax and fee revenues gave the city more fiscal wiggle room. The City Council will hold two public hearings on the budget in September.