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Business Group Explains Opposition To Miami Beach Minimum Wage

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A minimum wage case before the Florida Supreme Court will determine whether Miami Beach can move ahead with an ordinance passed by the city commission in 2016.

The issue is whether a 2003 state law stopping local governments from setting their own minimum wage supersedes a 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment.

Miami Beach city commissioners voted to phase in a higher minimum wage that would reach $13.31 an hour by 2021. That would be about $5 more an hour than the state’s minimum wage.

Then-Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine spoke with WLRN shortly after he proposed the wage increase.

“In 2004, 70 percent of the people of Florida voted for a constitutional amendment that allowed municipalities to set their own minimum living wage. We believe that the constitutional amendment that the people voted for has precedence,” Levine said. “If the state decides to sue and they don’t believe that people in Florida deserve a living wage, and they want to litigate, then of course we are prepared to do so.”

The state did sue the city, and it was joined by groups including the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The question is whether the constitutional amendment does what Miami Beach leaders say it does. They think it gives them the power to raise their minimum wage. Two courts have said it doesn’t.

The first phase of the wage increase was scheduled to begin at the start of this year. But before that could happen, a lower court and an appeals court ruled against the city.

Samantha Padgett is General Counsel for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, another plaintiff in the lawsuit. She says the association believes the minimum wage should be established at the state level to provide consistency for businesses and economic development.

PADGETT:  We also believe that each business should be able to decide for itself what its market will bear and what the wage should be. Of course, everyone should be in compliance with the statewide minimum wage, but anything over and above that – it is for the business to decide.

WFSU: Let’s talk about that. What is the potential impact on businesses if Miami Beach gets the okay to raise the minimum wage?

PADGETT:  I tend to shy away from the argument of the hair on fire, every business will close. Yes, I think that it is possible, especially for smaller businesses, that there’s the potential for that impact. I think what we need to look at, though, is the potential for broader impact; that if you make it more expensive to hire people at those minimum wage positions, that you’re potentially foreclosing employment opportunities for those that are just starting out and for those that are older.

For a company to pay that much more for its labor, they’re going to want that much more. Labor is a very significant cost for them, and if you make it more expensive to hire, they might look for more efficient ways to operate... Is there a computer that can do the same thing more efficiently and less expensively?

WFSU: For Miami Beach, this isn’t just about wages. It’s about home rule and that community setting its own rules. Where does the FRLA stand on the issue of home rule?

PADGETT: In many instances, we absolutely support home rule. Communities have the right to define for themselves how they look, how they operate. However, you can’t say this is only going to impact Miami Beach. It will have an impact in neighboring and surrounding municipalities and counties, and will also cause other municipalities to look at, ‘should we raise our minimum wage?’

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. She left after a few years to spend more time with her son, working part-time as the capital reporter/producer for WLRN Public Media in Miami and as a drama teacher at Young Actors Theatre. She also blogged and reported for StateImpact Florida, an NPR education project, and produced podcasts and articles for AVISIAN Publishing. Gina has won awards for features, breaking news coverage, and newscasts from contests including the Associated Press, Green Eyeshade, and Murrow Awards. Gina served on the Florida Associated Press Broadcasters board of directors and now serves on the board of the new Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists. In her free time, Gina likes to read, travel, and watch her son play sports. Follow Gina Jordan on Twitter: @hearyourthought