Florida joins seven other states in enacting a $15 minimum wage

The Sunshine State is the first in the South to vote in favor of an increase—in a region that has long been hostile to labor unions and slow to raise the minimum wage.

When Florida voted to re-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday, it also achieved a long-sought victory for labor unions, low-wage workers, and even some small-business owners: Voters in the Sunshine State passed an amendment to raise the its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Floridians voted in favor of the minimum-wage ballot initiative, Amendment 2, by over 60 percent, according to Associated Press poll data published by The New York Times and updated just before 1:00 p.m., EST. The initiative amends the state constitution to raise the minimum from $8.56 to $10 an hour, effective September 30, 2021. From there, the rate increases by $1 each year until it reaches $15 in 2026. 

Florida joins seven other states in enacting a $15-minimum: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. It is the first state to have done so in the South, a region that has long been hostile to labor unions and slow to raise the minimum wage. 

“Higher wages means that workers can afford food and health care for ourselves and our children.”

To overcome those legislative obstacles, Florida’s unique electorate—socially conservative, and economically liberal, according to political scientist Lee Drutman—instead made gains at the ballot box. The Washington Post reports that Florida is the first state in the country to enact a $15 minimum wage through a ballot measure. 

Despite persistent failures at the federal level, where the minimum has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009, the ballot win was a success for labor advocates, who have managed to prevail in city and state battles over the last few years. The passage of Florida’s amendment means that 36 percent of American workers will now be covered by a $15-an-hour law, according to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the labor union that backs Fight for $15, a national campaign.

“Higher wages means that workers can afford food and health care for ourselves and our children,” Faith Booker, a McDonald’s worker in Lakeland, Florida, said in a statement emailed to The Counter by the Fight for $15 campaign. “It means that Florida’s essential workers will finally get the support we deserve as we build our state back stronger than ever from this pandemic.”

“We are extremely worried about the job losses and business closures that will accompany this mandate.”

In the business community, perspectives are mixed. Florida Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a new coalition of over 160 business owners and executives that backed Amendment 2, praised the win, saying in a statement on its website that a higher minimum wage boosts consumer buying power and improves work productivity by reducing turnover. 

But the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), a trade association representing 10,000 hotels, restaurants and other employers, believes the wage hike will compound the pain felt by an industry already gutted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We are extremely worried about the job losses and business closures that will accompany this mandate,” Carol Dover, FRLA’s president, said in a press release issued Tuesday morning.

In recent years, as amendments to raise the minimum wage for restaurant workers and end sub-minimum wages for front-of-house staff have been introduced around the country, some workers have made the seemingly counterintuive argument that wage hikes are no good. For those workers, the fear is that higher labor costs will hurt the industry, and a weaker restaurant industry threatens jobs.

“If we don’t have our tourists in town because we have to raise rates on everything, to pay employees $15 an hour, then we’re going to lose a lot of tourists. So we’re going to be losing a lot of money.”

Heather Parsons, a bartender at the Crab Trap in Destin, Florida, is among those who fear that a $15 minimum wage will mean restaurateurs have to raise menu prices to accommodate higher labor costs. And that, she said will mean that diners, and particularly tourists, balk at tipping, which she relies on for her income. 

“It might work in other cities, but we are tourist-based. And if we don’t have our tourists in town because we have to raise rates on everything, to pay employees $15 an hour, then we’re going to lose a lot of tourists,” she said. “So we’re going to be losing a lot of money.”

But Hector Sandoval, a University of Florida economist, said there’s no evidence that customers tip less when menu prices rise, because tipping tends to be a proportion or fraction of the bill, as opposed to a flat fee. 

“There is no consensus whether impact has been negative or positive, in terms of employment effects, in terms of the number of jobs,” he told The Counter. “If you focus on jobs, that is still an open question.”

Sam Bloch is a staff writer for The Counter, where he covers business, environment and culture. He has also written for The New York Times, L.A. Weekly, Places Journal, Art in America and other publications.