The debate over raising Florida’s minimum wage has largely pitted employers, who argue it would be too costly, against workers, who say they can’t live off the current $8.56 an hour. A newly formed coalition of Florida businesses that back Amendment 2 wants to change that narrative.
Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, which includes restaurants, manufacturers, hoteliers and clothing boutiques, was formed in the months before the Nov. 3 election when Floridians will decide on the amendment. If passed with 60% of the vote, it would gradually increase the minimum wage a $1 per year until it reaches $15 in 2026.
Right now the minimum wage is adjusted annually to keep up with inflation, but the increases are usually minimal. Since 2005, when voters approved a state minimum wage, it’s gone up a total of $2.41. From 2019 to 2020, it went up just a dime.
So far, more than 130 businesses have joined the coalition, including Jared Myers' Legacy Vacation Resorts, a timeshare company with properties in Orlando and Kissimmee that typically serves about 300,000 customers a year.
Myers, who directly employs about 80 workers, said like all hoteliers his business has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and there will undoubtedly be a cost to raising wages. But to him, it’s a question of fairness.
“Our hotels are struggling like every hotel in Central Florida. It’s not like I’m sitting here with a thriving business ... and I’m proposing, just increase your cost, don’t worry about it. So I hear the difficulty of why now versus some other time,” he said. But “I don’t think people should be working a full-time job and not be able to afford their basic necessities.”
Myers said getting his workers to $15 an hour won’t be a long journey or one that will require eliminating jobs.
For his Florida employees, the starting wage is $13.05, which the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sets as the “living wage” for a single adult living in Orange and Osceola counties. He started using the MIT system, which takes into account the cost of food, child care, housing, taxes and other expenses in a given area, about two years ago.
One recent study from the Florida Policy Institute, an Orlando-based, left-leaning think tank, estimates the passage of Amendment 2 would bring 1.3 million households out of poverty, which includes individuals who make less than $12,760 a year and some families earning less than $21,720. In all, FPI says 2.5 million part-time and full-time workers would see their pay improve under the proposal.
That study also found the increase would narrow wage gaps for women, who earn 85 cents for every dollar men are paid, and people of color, who make 60 cents for every dollar a white man makes. FPI estimated that 36% of the state’s Black workers and 34% of its Hispanic workers would see pay increases, as well as about one-third of women.
But industry groups opposed to the change, including the Chamber of Commerce and Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, have pointed to other studies predicting that millions of workers would actually lose their jobs.
One by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that although the amendment would boost wages for 17 million workers by 2025 and decrease the number of people living in poverty by 1.3 million, another 1.3 million people would lose their jobs.
Incoming Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said the amendment would force small businesses to reduce workforces, raise prices and even close completely.
“The biggest corporations in the United States, they don’t have to bother with this conversation because they can pay their employees whatever they want,” he said. “But your mom and pop small businesses throughout our community … they’re the ones who are going to suffer.”
Diego Tosoni, owner of Love Life Cafe, a vegan restaurant with two Miami locations that employs around 40 people, said he doesn’t anticipate those scenarios playing out.
He already pays employees at least $11 an hour and is opening a third location in Orlando next month, despite the pandemic that forced him to temporarily cut hours until money from the Paycheck Protection Program came through.
Tosoni sympathized with businesses that are struggling to stay open during the pandemic, but said because the wage increases would be gradual it would be very doable to carry out. He doesn’t expect to have to raise menu prices or cut employees; in fact, he plans to hire eight additional workers for the Orlando location.
“We always felt like there’s a social responsibility, not only for the food we serve but that has to translate into how we treat our staff in terms of pay and equality,” Tosoni said. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be that boss. I want to do something different.’”
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