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Updated Feb 28, 2014 - 7:22 pm

Labor official visits Phoenix to talk about minimum wage increase

PHOENIX -- A top U.S. labor official visited Phoenix Friday for talks on increasing the minimum wage.

Wage and Hour Deputy Administrator Laura Fortman heard life stories from several minimum wage workers.

One of them is 20-year-old Hector Florez, of Phoenix. He still lives at home, but his parents are unemployed. His dad made $18 an hour as a construction worker until five years ago. He was fired after his employer did a check through the E-Verify system and found that he had a false Social Security card.

The family of seven lives on the money Florez earns from his $8.50-an-hour job at a Family Dollar store.

"I have to pay utilities and food," Florez said. "Not having another job inside the house means that everything is on me."

President Barack Obama said during his State of the Union speech that the minimum wage should be raised to $10.10 an hour, and Fortman agrees.

"Definitely!" she said. "Currently, if you're working full time, you're below the poverty level. It's just not OK to be working full time, working hard and living in poverty in the United States."

Fortman said she's confident that raising the minimum wage would help the workers, even if stores and restaurants increase their prices to offset increased labor costs, which means the workers might have to pay more for basic necessities.

"People are able to get more security by having a little bit more income," she said.

Fortman's visit to Phoenix is part of a tour that also included stops in Las Vegas and Portland, Maine, within the past couple of weeks.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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