Miami Beach

Miami Beach mayor wants to challenge Florida law by setting citywide minimum wage

Miami Beach mayor proposes minimum-wage hike in defiance of Florida law

A Miami Beach city attorney discusses the reasons behind the mayor's plan to raise the minimum wage.
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A Miami Beach city attorney discusses the reasons behind the mayor's plan to raise the minimum wage.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has proposed setting a citywide minimum wage higher than the state rate — a measure that would please local organized labor officials, directly challenge state laws and impact the city’s hospitality industry.

Such a change, which is prohibited by the state and could land the city in a legal battle with Tallahassee, would make Miami Beach the first local government in Florida to require all employers to adhere to a minimum wage set by City Hall.

The mayor wants to set a city minimum wage higher than the state’s current rate of $8.05. Starting in July 2017, the city would require a minimum wage of $10.31. It would increase a dollar a year until it reaches $13.31 in 2020. That figure is the “living wage” already adopted for city employees without benefits. In 2021, the City Commission would have the discretion to increase the minimum wage further using the local consumer price index.

Employers of tipped workers would still be able to pay a lower federal minimum wage if tips get the workers’ wages up to the city-mandated minimum.

Levine, who was flying in from out of town, could not attend the press conference he called to announce his proposal Wednesday afternoon due to weather delays.

“We continue to hear stories from our residents who are unable to live and work in Miami Beach because of the high costs of rent, transportation and basic living costs,” said Levine in a prepared statement. “But today, we start addressing this growing problem through higher wages by establishing a citywide minimum living wage.”

The City Commission will consider the proposal May 11.

The proposal will likely surprise many in the Beach’s bustling hospitality industry, a segment of the private sector that is the city’s lifeblood. City Hall relies on a vibrant tourism industry to bolster its budget through hotel taxes.

As costs of living steadily increase for all, many of the hourly workers who form the backbone of the tourism industry have not seen their wages keep up. Wages stagnate as wealth continues to flood the area, creating one of the widest income gaps between the rich and poor in the country.

Antoinette Quintyne, a caregiver at a Miami Beach nursing home and single mother of four, said she’s seen her expenses go up faster than her income.

“I’m struggling,” she said. “It’s tough living on minimum wage.”

Rents are skyrocketing, making it harder for hourly wage earners who live in Miami Beach to continue to do so. In South Beach, renters in 15 low-rise apartment buildings were recently hit with news that rents would go up between 35 and 50 percent after a new landlord renovates the units.

When the Herald reported on the rent hikes and the likely displacement of local hospitality workers, Levine said private industry needed to step up.

“The fact that [people] work and live in Miami Beach and can’t afford to live here means to me that our hotel and hospitality industry isn’t paying enough,” he said in February.

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One hotelier voiced his support for the ordinance in a statement Wednesday.

“Our business is proud to stand with Mayor Levine as he works with his colleagues on the City Commission to pass fiscally and socially responsible legislation that makes Miami Beach a leader in addressing minimum wages,” said Jonathan Plutzik, owner of The Betsy Hotel on Ocean Drive.

Labor union officials are also backing the ordinance. Monica Russo, president of the SEIU Florida State Council, called rising costs of living with stagnant wages a “real threat to Florida’s economy” in a statement.

“We applaud Mayor Levine for showing real leadership on an issue that for so many means the difference between buying food or paying rent,” she said.

Business leaders will be watching next week’s vote closely. Tourism leaders, particularly the hotel industry, would likely feel the impact the most. Officials from Greater Miami and The Beaches Hotel Association and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau did not return requests for comment Wednesday night.

Michael Goldberg, chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, attended the press conference and said business owners would look at the specifics of the proposal before taking a stance.

“We going to study the full ordinance, go through all the facts and potential consequences,” he said.

Apart from the ripple effects in the Beach community, City Hall could be welcoming a legal battle with the state if it chooses to pass the ordinance.

Controversial minimum wage ordinances in other cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have been lauded as progressive social policy by some and criticized as job killers by others. But in Florida, cities and counties are preempted by the state from setting their own minimums. The state prohibition went into effect in 2005.

Miami Beach’s legal department is arguing that the state’s preemption is unconstitutional because of an amendment to Florida’s constitution passed by 71 percent of voters in 2004 that set a state minimum wage higher than the federal rate and seems to leave the door open for local governments to create their own wage laws.

“I don’t think [state officials] could walk into court with a straight face and defend this,” said First Assistant City Attorney Robert Rosenwald, who drafted the ordinance.

Kansas City faced a similar prohibition in October, when its City Council wanted to implement a citywide minimum wage but was blocked by state lawmakers.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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