Florida voters boost hundreds of state workers' pay by passing minimum wage amendment

According to their labor union, 17,000 state workers now make less than $15 an hour.

James Call
Capital Bureau

Nearly 600 full-time state workers will see a substantial raise in nine months.

The $3,000-a-year boost is the first of six scheduled pay raises for Florida's lowest-paid workers approved by voters when they passed the minimum wage amendment this Election Day.   

More:Amendment 2, which would raise minimum wage, narrowly approved by Florida voters

And in two years, when another $1-an-hour raise occurs, nearly 1,300 state employees will suddenly make enough money for a family of three to escape poverty. 

Amendment 2 mandates a $15 minimum wage by 2026, to be increased in steps.    

The first step is a $1.44 hike for workers who make the minimum wage — including 600 on the state's payroll —  to an hourly rate of $10, increasing annual pay from $17,804 to $20,80.

The wage then will rise a dollar a year until it reaches $15 in 2026. 

According to AFSCME, the labor union that represents 40,000 state employees, 17,000 workers currently make less than $15 an hour. Of that group, 1,281 make less than the federal poverty level for a family of three as set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Those workers, including 475 of them who live in Leon and three surrounding counties, will see their annual pay reach $22,880 — a thousand dollars more than the poverty level — when the second increase goes into effect in 2022. 

Related:Five things to watch as the Florida Legislature returns to Tallahassee next year

An AFSCME spokesman said the labor union was “thrilled” that 61% of voters supported the $15 minimum wage initiative. Proposed amendments need at least 60% approval by voters statewide to become part of the state constitution. 

The initiative covers more than 2 million people who work in jobs such as janitors and school bus drivers, and provide services in health care, landscaping, hospitality and other service industries for a low wage.  

People demonstrate at a McDonald’s in Fort Lauderdale during a rally for $15 minimum wage.

Despite robust opposition from the business community and politicians who support letting the market set wages, Amendment 2 received more votes than outgoing President Donald Trump, who bested President-elect Joe Biden in Florida. 

More:How Tallahassee business owners view the $15 minimum wage amendment, a snapshot

A Florida Chamber of Commerce analysis found that, when fully implemented, the $15-wage mandate could cost the state up to 150,000 jobs because of the added expense to business, including not only the wage, but also taxes and fees for items such as workers compensation and unemployment insurance that are calculated based on pay. 

Supporters countered that putting more money in the pocket of workers living in or near poverty will generate more economic activity and stimulate profits and job growth. 

The effort to substantially increase the minimum wage began eight years ago when fast-food workers in New York City walked off their jobs and called for a $15 minimum. 

Florida voters approved a schedule similar to ones adopted by seven other states that also are working toward a $15 minimum: California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Washington state.  

Sade Andrews is a fast-food worker who supports a $15 minimum wage in Florida.

Now, AFSCME, the AFL-CIO and other worker advocates say they will watch closely when the Legislature writes the law to implement Amendment 2. The Chamber’s analysis found the amendment is "self-executing" and there is not much for lawmakers to do, though.

More:Florida minimum wage hike approved by voters still faces hurdle in GOP-led Legislature

In 2004, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that established a statewide minimum wage and required a new wage calculation tied to any increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). That is why the state minimum is more than the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25, which hasn't changed since 2009.

All Amendment 2 did, according to state Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Hollywood, was to change the number for the CPI calculation, giving lawmakers little room to tinker with.  

And after his staff reviewed the amendment, new Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, said he believed it any implementing language would be “purely technical and conforming.”   

Minimum wage workers like the ones at Joe Patti's Seafood will receive an increase in pay beginning next September. Florida voters called for an increase in the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour by 2026.

Nonetheless, Jenne — co-chair of the House Democratic Caucus — and labor interests anxiously wait to see what it is that Simpson considers appropriate “technical and conforming” language.  

They point to a series of voter-approved initiatives that, once implemented, failed to fully restore felons' voting rights, set aside tax revenue to buy and manage conservation land, and to make medical marijuana as easily accessible as possible.  

Jenne said it's impressive how lawmakers mutate ideas voters OK on the ballot in the “Republican policy laboratory.”  

“I try to give credit when it is due, but (the Republican majority is) a very creative bunch when it comes to thwarting the will of the voters,” he added.  

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

Never miss a story:  Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat using the link at the top of the page.