A minimum wage victory for working families in FL could also run into pitfalls if lawmakers get involved

By: - November 4, 2020 3:54 pm

Protesters gather in May 2019 in Fort Lauderdale to demand higher wages. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Advocates for higher wages for working families celebrated Tuesday night, as Florida voters narrowly approved Amendment 2 on the ballot to raise the state’s minimum wage incrementally until it reaches $15 per hour in 2026.

Overall, 60.8 percent of voters said yes to the minimum wage boosts — the amendment needed at least 60 percent to pass. Florida’s current minimum wage is $8.56 per hour.

“Florida voters said ‘yes’ to Amendment 2, making Florida the eighth state to pass a $15 per hour minimum wage,” Sadaf Knight, CEO of Florida Policy Institute, said in a written statement.

“Floridians are making clear that it’s time to move the needle on shared prosperity: The amendment will reduce historical pay inequities experienced by women and people of color and increase the income of more than 1 in 4 Florida workers, as our recent report shows. Voters across the state recognize that it’s a critical time to boost pay for working families.”

That said, ballot initiatives in the past have run into problems, even after voters overwhelmingly passed the Constitutional Amendments.

More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the medical marijuana Constitutional Amendment in 2016, for example, but the state struggled under then-Gov. Rick Scott to implement it.

When Ron DeSantis became governor in January of 2019, he immediately pushed the Florida Legislature to quickly fix the state’s medical marijuana law to allow smokable pot for sick people.

“Everyone knew what that amendment meant,” DeSantis said in January 2019. “I mean, it was very clear. There was an overwhelming support for it. So we’ve just got to enact a statute that is going to pass constitutional muster.”

In another pivotal measure, voters in 2018 passed a Constitutional Amendment on felon voting rights. But that measure has led to legislative wrangling and numerous court challenges.

At issue is whether the new amendment passed this week will end up with similar problems that could block the intentions of the minimum wage measure.

As it stands now, Florida’s minimum wage will increase to $10.00 per hour on September 30, 2021. Each September 30th thereafter, the minimum wage shall increase by $1.00 per hour until it reaches $15.00 per hour on September 30th, 2026.

From that point forward, future minimum wage increases shall revert to being adjusted annually for inflation starting September 30th, 2027.

“The Republicans who control everything, have used mostly the Legislature and occasionally the courts to thwart what the people have done by putting all these restrictions on it…like it did with marijuana,” Ben Pollara, campaign manager of Florida For A Fair Wage, said in a phone interview with the Florida Phoenix.

Florida courts have rejected a lot of Amendments in the past, Pollara added. But he doesn’t think that will be the case with Amendment 2.

“Their ability to do so is limited by the nature of the Amendment. The title and summary clearly and accurately describe the content of the amendment,” he said. “Unless it conflicts with the Constitution, they can’t [reject Amendment 2].”

According to the Florida Policy Institute, the state will see $577 million in new sales tax revenue by gradually boosting the minimum wage.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis that has led state economists to anticipate a substantial budget shortfall in the coming years, boosting wages for Floridians — who contribute more to sales tax revenue than tourists and businesses combined — makes financial sense,” the group said in a press release.

Many business owners in the state believe that the ballot initiative will boost consumer spending and strengthen the economy, according to the Florida Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a coalition of business owners supporting a fair wage for workers.

In a press release Tuesday, the group said, “more than 160 business owners and executives” joined the coalition and pointed to other benefits such as “reduced employee turnover, increased productivity and better customer service.”

Some top politicians opposed Amendment 2

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

But the minimum wage measure faced opposition from some business groups and officials in Florida, saying the mandate will negatively impact small businesses and workers whose hours could be reduced or jobs terminated.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), a nonprofit organization supporting workers in the hospitality industry, said that “thousands of businesses” in the state will suffer as a result of boosting the minimum wage.

“Given the devastating impacts COVID-19 has already had on Florida’s economy, we are extremely worried about the job losses and business closures that will accompany this mandate,” Carol Dover, president & CEO of FRLA, said in a written statement.

“We are proud of our small business owners and employees from across the state who came together to fight this amendment. We have seen too many places across the country that have implemented this wage hike, only to see workers who were promised more money instead, lose their jobs altogether. We are worried about our small businesses and the Floridians who will lose their jobs,” she continued.

According to Florida Politics, Gov. Ron DeSantis told Floridians on Monday to vote against the proposal because “Ballot Amendment 2 would close small businesses, kill jobs and reduce wages.”

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis also opposed Amendment 2, urging Florida voters in a Facebook post on Friday to “Vote NO on 2.”

“During these difficult times, we must protect small businesses. Ballot Amendment 2 would lead to thousands of Floridians losing their jobs, hours being cut, and an increase of the cost of living for seniors on a fixed income,” Patronis said in the Facebook post.

Proponents who pushed Amendment 2

John Morgan, on the right, at the Capital Tiger Bay Club.

Proponents included Florida attorney John Morgan, a sponsor and chairman of the Florida For A Fair Wage, a political committee registered with the Florida Division of Elections that gathered enough petition signatures for the proposed Amendment to appear on the ballot in November.

Florida For A Fair Wage said in a written statement:

“This was a huge step forward in fighting poverty and shrinking the wage gap that is disproportionately experienced by women and Floridians of color. We showed our legislators that Floridians care about our lowest paid workers and know that in order to truly stimulate our economy, they need a fair and livable wage.”

“We made a difference yesterday – one that will improve the lives of many.”

Morgan explained in a Twitter video on Sunday why he spearheaded the ballot proposal, saying “I did it because I believe in life.”

“If you’ve had good fortune and good luck, you are required to share that good fortune and good luck. In this country, there is no greater issue than income inequality,” he continued.

In response to arguments about the proposal triggering job losses, Morgan said, “Nobody’s going to lose their job.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.