Protesters gather in May 2019 in Fort Lauderdale to demand higher wages. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Later this month, Florida workers will see a significant bump to the state’s minimum wage, part of a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2020 that gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2026.
The initiative means that employers will be required to pay workers a minimum of $10 per hour, beginning Sept. 30 — a substantial increase from the current minimum wage of $8.65.
In 2020, the minimum wage was $8.56 an hour and it increased by only nine cents in January 2021, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Implementation of the $10-an-hour wage hike will be quite simple and take effect immediately, said Ben Pollara, campaign manager of Florida For A Fair Wage. Chaired by activist attorney John Morgan, the political committee pushed the wage hike by collecting enough signatures for it to appear on the 2020 ballot.
Voters said yes to the measure in November 2020, though not everyone was a fan.
But by now, September has arrived, the Labor Day holiday is approaching, and Floridians will likely get accustomed to the minimum wage hike.
“I think it’s pretty straightforward,” Pollara said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix. “The law amended has been on the books, it doesn’t require implementation.”
Pollara doesn’t foresee any major hurdles in workers receiving their pay increase, though a state lawmaker had unsuccessfully challenged legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican representing part of Pinellas County, filed a joint resolution that died in the Florida Senate in late April, that would have reduced pay for felons, young individuals, and other “hard to hire” people.
Minimum wage boost impacts low-wage employees
The only requirement, Pollara said, will be that Florida businesses display notices about the minimum wage law in conspicuous locations for workers.
And the state’s department of economic opportunity says in a message to employers on its website that “Florida businesses must display federal and State of Florida employment law posters where they can be easily viewed by employees.”
But as employers across the state scramble to boost pay for workers earning less than $10 an hour, not every industry in Florida is enthusiastic about the bump in pay.
Still, advocates for higher wages say the increase will help lift hundreds of thousands out of poverty in Florida.
Alexis Davis, policy analyst at Florida Policy Institute, believes the wage increase will have a positive impact on many low-wage workers in the service industry, such as Latinos, women and others from “marginalized groups.”
“We estimate about 646,000 working Floridians will directly benefit from this pay increase this year,” Davis said. “That’s an estimate, of course. For them, even though it’s only going up to $10 (per hour) this year, it will make a dramatic difference.”
On the other hand, some workers in Florida have already seen a bump in pay, Davis said.
In fact, state workers’ hourly minimum wage increased to $13 an hour, according to a report from Florida Politics. That initiative was backed by Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June, as part of the state budget.
Tipped workers express concern
Meanwhile, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, representing workers in the hospitality industry, has opposed the wage spike because of concerns that it could negatively impact employers struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tipped workers at restaurants and other businesses serving patrons “typically make significantly above minimum wage,” said Ashley Chambers, press secretary of FRLA. And the increase will result in loss of jobs in that industry and increased prices at businesses, Chambers argued.
“It remains to be seen how the impending increase will affect this industry already reeling from the effects of COVID and the related labor shortage,” Chambers said in an email to the Phoenix. “We continue to believe market forces should establish wage rates, rather than arbitrary government mandates.”
Chambers added that due to labor shortages overall in the hospitality industry, workers have been making over minimum wage in many markets.
She added, “The very people this ill-conceived effort purports to help are likely to suffer negative impacts in the form of reduced opportunity and increased prices as the industry attempts to adapt to this mandate amid historic business disruption and traditionally tight profit margins,” Chambers said.
As previously reported by the Phoenix, advocacy groups such as the Florida Policy Institute, warned about a trend of employers violating the law by paying low-wage workers below the minimum wage, known as wage theft. That group noted in a report that “victims of wage theft lose 18 percent of the minimum wage to which they are entitled, on average, or $1.32 per hour.”
Currently, the state has no way to ensure employers are paying workers the minimum wage, but victims of wage theft can file a complaint through Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, Davis of FPI said.
“It’s a constitutional right that Floridians earn at least the minimum wage so employers should be adhering to that as early as Sept. 30,” Davis said. “But if they are not and they are failing to enforce the minimum wage law, then that is the responsibility of the attorney general’s office.”
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