POLITICS

Florida Voters Approve $15 Minimum Wage

Thanks to an amendment to the state constitution, the wage floor in the state will rise $1 per year until it hits $15 in 2026.

A Florida ballot initiative that will gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour is projected to pass, according to The Associated Press. 

The proposal, known as Amendment 2, needed at least 60% approval to pass under the state constitution. 

Under the new law, the current minimum wage of $8.56 will rise to $10 next year. It will increase $1 each year thereafter until it hits $15 in 2026. After that, it will adjust annually according to an inflation index.

By passing the measure, Florida joins seven other states that are moving toward a $15 minimum wage, which has been the rallying cry of the Fight for $15 campaign in fast food and other low-wage industries. The new law will push up wage rates in the state’s sprawling hospitality-and-tourism sector.

The federal minimum wage remains just $7.25 per hour and hasn’t been raised in more than a decade. It prevails in any state that doesn’t mandate a higher one. But those states increasingly comprise a minority, with 29 states now above the federal level ― thanks in large part to voter referendums.

As the Florida vote shows, increasing the minimum wage remains an immensely popular idea, even in states that are politically purple or red. Republicans hold the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the statehouse in Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other GOP leaders criticized the proposal and claimed it would hurt small businesses.

On Tuesday night, the Fight for $15 issued a statement attributed to Faith Booker, a McDonald’s worker in Lakeland.

“For months, we’ve put our lives on the line at work, while our families have struggled to put food on the table,” Booker said. “But we knew that by coming together across industries and throughout our entire state, working people could propel Amendment 2 to victory.”

Florida enacted a higher state minimum wage in 2005, but it was modest enough that the federal minimum wage eventually caught up to it. And although it has continued to increase due to inflation, it has never been substantially higher than the federal level. Critics say the current amount is far too little for workers to survive on, particularly in the state’s high-cost areas on the coasts.

As the Florida vote shows, increasing the minimum wage remains an immensely popular idea.

The tipped minimum wage paid to restaurant servers and other workers who earn gratuities will increase alongside the regular minimum wage. Employers will maintain a $3.02 “tip credit” that they can apply to the minimum wage. So when the regular rate reaches $15, employers will have to pay tipped workers at least $11.98 before tips.

The other states with $15 minimum wage laws are California, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut. California will be the first of those states to hit the $15 mark statewide, in 2022.

A political group called Florida for a Fair Wage amassed the 800,000 signatures necessary to get Amendment 2 on the state’s 2020 ballot. The group is chaired by John Morgan, a high-profile attorney who represents workers in class-action lawsuits against employers. 

Industry lobbies representing restaurants, hotels and other businesses lined up on the other side. Minimum wage referendums tend to spook business groups because they bypass the statehouse and governor and go directly to voters, who are far more likely to approve them. 

Such was the case in Florida. According to Orlando Weekly, the head of the state’s hospitality lobby said, “We only wish in Florida that it was going to the state Legislature because I have all the confidence in the world that it would barely make it out of committee.”

The first raise under the new law goes into effect on Sept. 30, 2021.