Minimum wage or livable wage? Voters will decide about boosting FL’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026

Workers rally for a $15 minimum wage. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Tandela Blount-Jackson has a baby on the way and works as a certified nursing assistant, earning a meager hourly wage.

At 31, she had been earning more money as a traveling nursing assistant in long-term care facilities and nursing homes out of state before she was pregnant. But she had to come home to Tallahassee during the pregnancy.

“When I am not on contract and I am home here in Florida – a lot of time I am working at minimum wage,” Blount-Jackson told the Florida Phoenix.

That minimum wage is $8.56 in Florida – a figure that won’t be enough for Blount-Jackson and her soon-to-be newborn.

Tandela Blount-Jackson

She strongly supports Constitutional Amendment 2 on the ballot Nov. 3 that would raise Florida’s minimum wage incrementally until it reaches $15 per hour in 2026. That would take six years, from 2021 through 2026.

The Amendment must be approved by 60 percent of voters to become law — but not all people want to bump up the minimum wage, with business groups and taxpayer advocates against the proposal as well as some workers.

No. 2 Constitutional Amendment,
Article X, Section 24

Raising Florida’s Minimum Wage Raises minimum wage to $10.00 per hour effective September 30th, 2021. Each September 30th thereafter, minimum wage shall increase by $1.00 per hour until the minimum wage 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.

State and local government costs will increase to comply with the new minimum wage levels. Additional annual wage costs will be approximately $16 million in 2022, increasing to about $540 million in 2027 and thereafter. Government actions to mitigate these costs are unlikely to produce material savings. Other government costs and revenue impacts, both positive and negative, are not quantifiable.

THIS PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT IS ESTIMATED TO HAVE A NET NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE STATE BUDGET. THIS IMPACT MAY RESULT IN HIGHER TAXES OR A LOSS OF GOVERNMENT SERVICES IN ORDER TO MAINTAIN A BALANCED STATE BUDGET AS REQUIRED BY THE CONSTITUTION.

Differences of opinion

Bartender and server Heather Parsons plans to vote against Amendment 2 because she fears it would disrupt generous earnings from tips and hurt workers in the restaurant business overall.

A spokesperson for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), a nonprofit organization supporting workers in the hospitality industry, said the organization is against the minimum-wage Amendment and connected the Florida Phoenix with Parsons. (The Phoenix did not speak or email directly to Parsons, but received written answers from her from questions provided to the FRLA.)

“I’m proud of my career in the hospitality industry and the service I provide to anyone who steps foot into our restaurant. But $15 an hour is a pay cut for me, and so many others like me across Florida who get tips on top of our wages,” Parsons said.

Parsons, who’s worked as server and bartender for more than 20 years, has four sons and is a bartender at the Crab Trap in Destin.

“Those who think this mandated wage hike is a good thing may have never been a server, or a hostess, or a bartender. They do not understand our industry, or our workers who depend on jobs that provide a good income and a flexible schedule so we can raise our families,” Parsons said.

Proponents are confident Amendment 2 will pass

Proponents include 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.

Ben Pollara, campaign manager of Florida For A Fair Wage, told the Phoenix that many people working essential jobs during the pandemic such as clerks at convenience stores are “not being paid a decent wage.”

He said he is confident that Florida voters will vote to pass Amendment 2. And if so, “next September the minimum wage would go from $8.56 [per hour] to $10,” he said.

Then it would climb each year to $11, $12, $13, $14 and $15. After that, starting Sept. 30, 2026, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually for inflation.

“I think they are going to approve it. Florida voters, I think, believe people who work hard should be able to feed their families,” Pollara said.

The group said Amendment 2 will help stimulate the economy and ensure that Floridians receive a living wage – the minimum cost to cover the basic needs of an individual and their family without relying on government assistance.

Florida For A Fair Wage says on its website that Florida’s current minimum wage adds up to less than $18,000 a year for a full-time employee — “not a livable wage for many of the 200,000 hard-working Floridians that earn it, especially those working to support a family.”

The Florida Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization focused on advancing policies and budgets, released a report in early September in support of Amendment 2, saying it would bolster the state’s recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“An increase in the minimum wage would mean higher pay for millions of Floridians, who would in turn spend those dollars at local businesses,” Sadaf Knight, CEO of Florida Policy Institute, said in an email to the Phoenix.

“Our recent analysis illustrates the profound impact that a gradual raising of the minimum wage…  would have for upwards of 1 in 4 working Floridians,” Knight said.

According to the report, increasing Florida’s minimum wage “to $15 per hour by 2026 would directly benefit 2.5 million individuals out of the 9.5 million employees anticipated by 2026.”

“Florida’s current minimum wage falls far short of a living wage, and too many people in this state, including those working multiple jobs, are struggling to put food on the table and afford rent payments,” Knight said.

Other benefits of increasing Florida’s minimum wage underscored in the report include helping to “lift households out of poverty, benefit Florida’s service sector the most, bring workers of all ages closer to a living wage” and “reduce pay inequities experienced by women and people of color.”

David Johnson, treasurer at the Unitarian Universalist Justice Florida, said in an email to the Phoenix that Amendment 2 could help many Floridians living in poverty to become more self-sufficient.

UU Justice Florida is a non-partisan organization in Florida that educates the public on issues of public policy.

“It’s estimated that 200,000 hard-working Floridians would see an increase in pay to help meet their basic needs and become self-sufficient. If passed, fewer people will need government assistance and more people will have discretionary income to circulate in the economy, thus creating new jobs,” Johnson said.

Key groups are against the Amendment

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is opposed to Amendment 2, claiming it would increase taxes and the cost of living, according to its website.

The organization also warns that increasing the minimum wage right now would exacerbate job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in jobs not returning and closing businesses.

“This will slow Florida’s economic recovery and hurt the very people the special interest behind this scam claims it helps,” the organization said on its website.

Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit research institute, also recommends that Florida voters vote “no” on Amendment 2 based on its report that weighed the pros and cons of the measure.

Dominic M. Calabro, Florida TaxWatch president and CEO, acknowledges that the Amendment would help some Floridians, but it also would wreak havoc on small businesses. And workers with entry-level skills may find it more difficult to find jobs due to competition from more experienced employees.

“These are small business owners that have 15 to 20 or fewer employees…they are the vast, super majority of all businesses throughout Florida, and they are going to be adversely impacted. And they will have to fire more people,” Calabro said in a phone conversation with the Phoenix.

“I think this is a well-intended Amendment…while it helps some, it clearly hurts far more. We want to see wages rise but we just want to see that they increase in a sustainable, more market-based or natural manner.”

Calabro suggested that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 should be raised first.

“I think if you’re going to increase minimum wages at all, it should be done nationwide,” Calabro said, adding that the federal minimum wage hasn’t seen an increase in nearly a decade.

According to the TaxWatch report, Florida’s minimum wage has increased faster than the federal minimum wage and it will increase on Jan. 1 of each year to match inflation.

And that report said Florida established a minimum wage of $6.15 in 2004 and it increased steadily each year until it reached $8.56 in 2020.

“In contrast, the federal minimum wage, which was established in 1938 by the Fair Labor Standards Act, has remained at $7.25 since 2010,” the report says.

Of all states, Washington has the highest minimum wage of 13.50, according to the Minimum Wage project of the Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute (EPI).

Florida’s $8.56 ranks 28th of the 50 states.

For certified nursing assistant Tandela Blount-Jackson, an increase in the minimum wage would help.

Right now, she is working in Blountstown, west of Tallahassee, for a health care agency on a contract that ends at the end of September. She’s struggling to find better paying jobs.

“I am about to be out of work…I have been putting in applications everywhere, but I just can’t afford to work two jobs while pregnant,” she said.

“Due to me having a baby on the way, I am home here in Florida and it’s really difficult to find travel assignments in north Florida; they just don’t want to pay.”