A fight to give Beach workers a raise

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Miami Beach workers gather for a news conference last week to announce the mayor’s plan to set a citywide minimum wage.
Miami Beach workers gather for a news conference last week to announce the mayor’s plan to set a citywide minimum wage. EL NUEVO HERALD

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has proposed an ordinance that would make the minimum wage citywide higher than the state rate — a controversial measure that a Miami Herald article said would:

1. Please local organized labor officials. 2. Challenge state laws and 3. Jolt the city’s hospitality industry by raising the minimum wage from the state-set $8.05 to to $13.21 by 2020.

In these times of talk of a fair living wage, income inequality and equal pay for women, Mr. Levine is putting his city in the forefront by addressing a prickly issue — and a hot-button topic in the presidential election. He might also be laying the ground work for his own political aspirations, maybe even a run for Florida governor.

If the ordinance, which the City Commission will initially consider on May 11, ultimately is approved, it would make Miami Beach the first local government in Florida to require all employers to adhere to a minimum wage set by City Hall and not by Tallahassee. Bold.

Mr. Levine’s minimum-wage initiative is the second time in weeks that the mayor has acted as if his internationally celebrated city were a sovereign nation within Miami-Dade.

In March, during a self-funded trip to Cuba, the mayor officially proposed to Cuban officials that the island government open a consulate in Miami. The city of Miami and Miami-Dade County have said No to a possible consulate, as have other Beach officials.

Mr. Levine is airing a radio ad touting his city’s planned vote for an increase in the minimum wage — in California, the state Gov. Rick Scott just visited in an attempt, met with some derision, to recruit companies to Florida, thus the speculation of a run for the state’s top office.

Mr. Levine’s go-rogue proposal recommends that starting in July 2017, Miami Beach would require a minimum wage of $10.31 be paid to all employees within its city limits. It would increase a dollar a year until it reaches the $13.31 threshold by 2020. 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.

The Editorial Board has long supported increases in Florida’s minimum wage, but under the state’s umbrella.

But given the state’s foot-dragging, Mr. Levine is smart to taking matters into his own hands. It’s one step to address the vast income divisions in this community.

The city will have an uphill battle. Los Angeles, Seattle and, most recently, Kansas City have tried to go this progressive route — and have failed. Workers and labor unions praise Mr. Levine’s move. Some business owners and merchants support the effort, too; others say it will kill jobs because they can’t afford as many employees at the higher salary. But a 2015 study by Integrity Florida examined five U.S. cities and counties that increased the minimum wage. All of them saw year-to-year job growth.

A legal fight might be on the horizon. In Florida, cities and counties are preempted by state law from setting their own wage minimums. But Miami Beach’s legal department is arguing that the state’s preemption is unconstitutional.

Mr. Levine should be praised for fighting for the quality of the lives of the housekeepers, store clerks, cashiers and others who work in his city and serve the tourists, and residents, who have brought it such prosperity.