Business groups fight Miami Beach wage hike

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BY JIM SAUNDERS
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – Amid debates across the country about higher minimum wages, three major Florida business groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging a plan to gradually raise the minimum wage in Miami Beach.

Miami Beach, the location of vintage hotels like The Avalon on Ocean Drive, passed a local ordinance raising the minimum wage in the city. (ELLEN CREAGER/DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS)
Miami Beach, the location of vintage hotels like The Avalon on Ocean Drive, passed a local ordinance raising the minimum wage in the city.
(ELLEN CREAGER/DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS)

The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade County by the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and three corporations, alleges that a city ordinance to start raising the minimum wage in January 2018 violates a state law.

‘Unintended consequences’
“The government shouldn’t dictate the relationship between an employer and employee,” Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a prepared statement. “If this ordinance is upheld it could have severe, unintended consequences for employers and employees across the Sunshine State and across the nation.”

The Miami Beach City Commission in June approved an ordinance that sets a minimum wage of $10.31 an hour in 2018, with the wage going up $1 a year to $13.31 on Jan. 1, 2021. In a news release, Miami Beach said it had become the first Florida city to establish a “citywide minimum living wage with a phased-in approach.”

The state’s minimum wage is $8.05 and is slated to rise to $8.10 next month.

“I am proud of our city for leading the way in reversing the trend that makes Florida a high-cost, low-wage state,” Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said in the June news release. “Cities throughout the United States have passed similar local minimum wage ordinances and the evidence shows the positive impact they have had on the local economy.”

Violates state law?
But the lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that the ordinance violates part of state law that seeks to bar local governments from approving minimum wages that differ from the state or federal rates.

The lawsuit, which seeks an injunction to block the ordinance, said the plaintiffs and the city “are in disagreement as to the construction and validity of the city wage ordinance.”

“The plaintiffs are not merely seeking legal advice or the answer to a question for curiosity,” the lawsuit said. “Instead, they are seeking a declaratory judgment from this court that the city wage ordinance is unlawful.”

Florida voters in 2004 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that has led to the state having a higher minimum wage than the federal rate. The state minimum wage is indexed to inflation, so it typically increases each year.

While the lawsuit cites a section of Florida statutes, the June news release from Miami Beach said the 2004 constitutional amendment “allowed municipalities to set a higher minimum wage than the state to more accurately reflect the higher cost of living in some parts of our very diverse state.”

City minimum wages have led to battles across the country, with many advocates seeking minimum pay rates of $15 an hour.

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