DeSantis’ Newly-Appointed Florida Supreme Court Justices Block Miami Beach from Raising Local Minimum Wage

In response to the decision by Governor Ron DeSantis’ newly-appointed Florida Supreme Court justices to reverse the court’s own decision less than six months ago to hear the challenge to Miami Beach’s local minimum wage ordinance, the following is a statement from NELP Senior Staff Attorney Laura Huizar:

“In one of their first actions, Governor DeSantis’ newly-appointed Florida Supreme Court justices decided to reverse a decision the Court made just six months ago—before Governor DeSantis took office—to give the City of Miami Beach a chance to defend its local minimum wage law.

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This is a shocking reversal that will block cities and counties in Florida from passing local minimum wage laws that actually meet workers’ needs. The Florida legislature has always refused to raise the state’s minimum wage, which is currently just $8.46 an hour.  That’s why Miami Beach took matters into their own hands to adopt a higher local minimum wage in 2016, as over forty cities and counties have done across the country.

The court’s decision to deny Miami Beach workers a higher minimum wage contradicts leading constitutional experts, who have argued that cities in Florida have the right under the state’s constitution to adopt higher local minimum wages. Further, appointed by a governor elected on an overtly racist campaign, the Florida Supreme Court justices also denied a majority-Latino city the right to ensure that local workers have the wages they need to live and thrive—a disturbing indication of the harm that the DeSantis administration is willing to inflict on people of color in Florida.

With this decision, the Florida Supreme Court passed up an important opportunity to protect local democracy and the basic right of cities’ and counties’ to build upon state laws in order to meet local needs, a right that the Florida legislature and corporate interests have eroded in recent years. This is a shameful, indefensible move that deserves to be met with swift condemnation across Florida and beyond.”

Background

Miami Beach enacted its minimum wage ordinance in June 2016 based on evidence and testimony demonstrating that the city’s workers simply could not make ends meet on the state’s then-$8.25 minimum wage (which translates to just over $17,000 a year for a full-time worker). The city has one of the highest costs of living in the state. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator estimates that a single worker with no children in the Miami/Miami Beach/Kendall area needs to earn more than $17 per hour in a full-time job to make ends meet (in 2017 dollars).

Soon after Miami Beach adopted its local minimum wage, big business groups sought to invalidate it in court by arguing that a 2003 state law that preempted all local minimum wage laws still prohibited higher local wages in Florida. The city has defended its ordinance by pointing to the fact that a ballot initiative overwhelmingly adopted by Florida voters in 2004 amended the state’s constitution to allow cities to enact a local minimum wage higher than the state’s.

Two lower courts have found that Miami Beach does not have the right to enact its own minimum wage.[i] However, the courts relied on a narrow reading and argued that the 2004 constitutional amendment had to have expressly taken away the legislature’s power to prohibit local minimum wage laws in Florida in order to repeal the legislature’s ban and empower cities to enact local minimum wages higher than the state’s minimum wage.[ii]

New polling in 2018 revealed that more than two out of three Florida voters believe that Florida cities should be allowed to raise the minimum wage beyond the state’s $8.25 level. In addition, by a two-to-one margin, Florida voters think that the Florida Constitution gives cities the power to enact higher local minimum wage laws.

The attempt by the Florida legislature to block cities from raising the minimum wage is nothing new. As NELP has outlined, state legislatures are responding to the success of the nationwide movement for higher wages by passing laws that prohibit cities and counties from adopting their own higher minimum wages. Twenty-five states have enacted laws to preempt local minimum wages. While state legislators will claim that these preemption laws are necessary to ensure uniformity of wages within a state, this argument is a distraction from the true corporate agenda behind these laws. Taking away local control over wages (and a range of other pro-worker, pro-environment, and pro-civil rights policies) has become a major priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed group with extensive lobbying resources and influence in our state legislatures.

The real facts about the effects of local minimum wage increases expose the hypocrisy of legislators’ ideological objections to local minimum wages. The most recent study of city-level minimum wage increases released in 2018 documents the negligible impact of raising the minimum wage in six cities: Chicago, the District of Columbia, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle.[iii] It is also the first study to examine the effects of increasing the minimum wage above $10.[iv] The study concluded that “a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage increases earnings in the food services industry between 1.3 and 2.5 percent” without a discernible negative impact on employment.[v]

The economic evidence also shows that a city or county that adopts a higher local minimum wage does not become “less competitive” with surrounding areas, another frequent claim by proponents of preemption. One of the most sophisticated studies of minimum wages was published by economists at the Universities of California, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.[vi] The study looked at the impact of minimum wage rates in more than 250 pairs of neighboring counties in the United States that had different minimum wage rates.[vii] Comparing neighboring counties on either side of a state line is an especially effective way of isolating the true impact of minimum wage differences, because neighboring counties tend to have similar economic conditions. The study found no difference in job growth rates.[viii]

Employers have attested to the positive impact of local wage hikes. In the Miami Beach case, the Main Street Alliance and Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, organizations representing a diverse set of small business owners in states around the country, including Florida, submitted an amicus curiae brief to the court in support of the city’s minimum wage law.

Endnotes

[i]         See City of Miami Beach v. Florida Retail Fed’n, Inc., 3D17-705, 2017 WL 6346787 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2017); Florida Retail Fed’n, Inc. v. City of Miami Beach, No. 16-031886 CA 10, slip op. (Fla. Cir. Ct. Mar. 27, 2017).

[ii]        Id.

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[iii].        Sylvia Allegretto et al., Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, The New Wave of Local Minimum Wage Policies: Evidence from Six Cities (Sept. 6, 2018), http://irle.berkeley.edu/the-new-wave-of-local-minimum-wage-policies-evidence-from-six-cities/.

[iv].        Id. at 2.

[v].         Id.

[vi].        Arindrajit Dube et al., The Review of Economics and Statistics, Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties (Nov. 2010) at 92(4): 945–964.

[vii].       Id.

[viii].      Id.

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