Florida Republicans take aim at ‘living wage ordinances’ and, by extension, working families | Florida News | Orlando

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The Florida State Capitol building

Escalating the Florida Legislature’s attacks this year on working Floridians, Republicans now want to prevent local governments from requiring that companies they contract with pay their employees a living wage that exceeds Florida’s current minimum wage of $11 per hour.

An amendment filed to a controversial bill supported by conservative groups,was approved by the Republican-dominated Florida House Commerce committee on Monday, taking aim at what are known as “living wage ordinances.”

Essentially, these are local laws that elected leaders of a select few cities in Florida (and more across the country) have passed that establish minimum wages for local government workers and/or employees of local government contractors that are higher than the state minimum wage.

Under a ballot initiative approved by over 60% of Florida voters in 2020, the state minimum wage is set to increase $1 each year to reach $15 per hour in October 2026.

As of 2003, Florida law already prohibits local governments from passing ordinances that’d require private employers to pay wages higher than the state minimum wage, or to provide benefits such as paid sick leave.

Although these living wage ordinances can vary in what they impose or include, they’re generally enacted to help retain and recruit workers to the local government sector by offering a base pay for their lowest-paid workers that keeps up with the cost of living.

Which has gone up quite a bit in recent years in Florida, if you hadn’t noticed.

When they affect government contractors, a living wage ordinance is also a values statement of sorts — a pledge that cities or counties will not do business with contractors that pay their employees less than a living wage. Or that they will otherwise prioritize contractors who do so when accepting contract bids.

Miami-Dade County (which currently has a minimum wage of $15.03 for eligible employees) was the first Florida municipality to pass such an ordinance, in 1999. The cities of St. Petersburg and North Miami Beach have followed suit.

This new amendment to the bill (HB 917), however — joining a laundry list of preemption bills the GOP has already proposed this year — threatens to take that away, and to prevent other local governments from pursuing their own ordinances governing wage mandates for government contractors in the future.

That doesn’t sit well with St. Petersburg city council member Richie Floyd, elected to his seat in 2021, who told Orlando Weekly in a text message, “It’s painfully obvious that the GOP doesn’t give a damn about the working class of this state and is hell bent on making it easier for business to exploit the very people they depend on.”

Floyd, a former delegate to the West Central Florida Labor Council, added, “I don’t ever want to hear another peep about ‘no one wanting to work’ from these corporate stooges.”

“I don’t ever want to hear another peep about ‘no one wanting to work’ from these corporate stooges.”

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The language of the amendment is similar to a controversial bill that failed to pass last year.

According to the Tampa Bay Timesessential reporting, that bill was pushed for by a major government contractor that donated thousands of dollars to the legislation’s Republican sponsors ahead of time, as well as organizations that opposed Florida’s $15 minimum wage amendment in 2020, like Associated Builders and Contractors and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Republican Rep. Giallombardo, who’s behind the bill amendment, is a member of his local Chamber of Commerce (admittedly, very common for Republicans) and a business owner.

Last month, Giallombardo’s political action committee got a $2,000 donation from the ABC of Florida, as well as $5,000 from the Associated Industries of Florida (which describes itself as “the Voice of Florida Business”).

A number of groups waived opposition to the proposed amendment during Monday’s committee meeting, including the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties, and the Broward County government.

Rich Templin, lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, representing over 500 labor unions in the state, said the amendment was hastily brought forward, and is similar to that in stand-alone bills that have been introduced multiple times over the years and have failed to pass, with bipartisan opposition standing in their paths.

“This is something that stakeholders have met thousands of hours over,” Templin told lawmakers. “The bills have never passed. And now we’re tacking an amendment onto a completely unrelated bill.”

As Seeking Rents previously reported, the bill was initially crafted to carve out minor league baseball players from Florida’s minimum wage requirements.

Democratic lawmakers on the committee, including Reps. Dotie Joseph and Allison Tant, were critical of the proposed amendment.

“I’m very concerned about taking money out of the pockets of these working Floridians because they will not have enough money to spend in local businesses,” said Rep. Tant. “I think this is bad for working people, and I also think it’s bad for business.”

Jackson Oberlink, with the advocacy group Florida Rising, was also opposed. “If this amendment were to pass, we would see these workers’ wages freeze, or at worst go down to the state minimum wage. Workers who are currently paid $12, $15, $17 an hour would see their wages slashed to the state minimum wage of $11 an hour,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, Southern states are more likely than states elsewhere to weaponize preemption in order to stop local governments from setting strong labor standards.

And the proposal isn’t uniquely Floridian.

The language is similar to a model policy developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing, corporate-funded “bill mill” that draws up templates for conservative policies that they then feed to state legislators across the country to introduce and enact.

An ALEC task force member spoke in favor of a different Florida bill (SB 256) last month that targets most of the state’s public sector unions. That bill, since passed by the Florida Senate, excludes unions representing cops, firefighters, probation and corrections officers, and (more recently) public transit workers.

Discussion on the proposed amendment for HB 917 — and the bill at large — was cut short for time on Monday, as it was brought up at the tail end of a four-hour meeting.

A lobbyist for Miami-Dade County was cut off from public comment shortly after telling lawmakers they estimated the bill would negatively impact more than 16,000 working families in Miami-Dade alone.

But there’s a chance for those who are concerned about these proposed changes to have their voices heard.

The bill was “temporarily postponed” on Monday, to be heard again next week, so there will be more opportunity for stakeholders (or any person really, with thoughts on the bill) to weigh in. As a rule, if a bill is amended or its title or subject matter change, it automatically gets temporarily postponed to be heard again at a future meeting.

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