The Case Against Florida Cities Joining The ‘Fight For $15’
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: March 2018
Should Florida’s cities join the Fight for $15?
Florida’s legal statutes–not to mention its courts—prohibit localities from setting a wage floor above the state requirement of $8.25 per hour. But the labor groups behind the Fight for $15 are nothing if not determined, and this month renewed their argument for local wage ordinances in Florida with an unusual poll asking voters for their legal interpretation of this issue.
Setting aside the relative merits of quizzing voters (most of whom aren’t lawyers) on a legal question, the poll raises an important question about whether Florida should rethink its prohibition on local wage ordinances. The state’s voters and policymakers can look to the west coast for a preview of the consequences for Florida.
The poll was undoubtedly inspired by the 2017 attempt by the City of Miami Beach to increase its minimum wage above the Florida state requirement. The city’s ordinance was struck down by a circuit court judge, a decision that was later upheld by the 3rd District Court of Appeals. This outcome wasn’t surprising to the proponents; the “political ambitious” then-mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine, had hoped to use the issue to boost his state-wide profile.
But labor groups would love nothing more than to lift the local restriction, which would allow them to do in Florida what they’ve already done in California: Create a bewildering patchwork of city-specific wage ordinances. Over 20 different California localities have wage and labor ordinances that are different from the state requirement. These ordinances vary not just in the wage level, but also in the phase-in schedule, compliance details, and additional business requirements.
Florida policymakers should look at the California case and shudder: The state has more than 280 cities, which could each conceivably set its own wage standard.
It’s not just the administrative hassle. Local minimum wages give cities the power to pursue truly-radical wage mandates, with consequences that affect employees, employers, and the state’s competitiveness more broadly. In the Bay Area, for instance, a Harvard Business School study found that each one-dollar increase in local minimum wages had increased the rate of restaurant closures by 14 percent. In 2016, there were so many closures in these high-wage localities that one publication described it as a “death march.”
A 2017 study released by my organization predicted significant harm should Florida go to $15 statewide. Florida business owners who were polled overwhelmingly responded that an increase in the state’s minimum wage would drastically harm their business, with nearly one-third of owners stating that they may be forced to go out of business.
Lifting the restrictions on local wage hikes would speed up this harm. There aren’t just statistics: Consider the story of Atlantic Shore Retirement Residence, a family-run facility in Pompano Beach. The manager says she will be forced to cut employee hours, reduce the number of workers, or even permanently close her retirement home—forcing her elderly residents to find housing elsewhere.
Empirical evidence shows that increasing the minimum wage only harms the individuals it was intended to help. If local lawmakers who tow the union line are freed to create their own higher minimum wage, they’ll learn this lesson the hard way.