What Miami Beach’s minimum wage hike means

Miami Beach is striking out on its own.

It was one of the only places in the state that managed to sneak in a Styrofoam ban before the legislature barred such laws. Now it’s trying to raise the minimum wage — a move prohibited throughout the state three years ago, when Florida banned cities from raising their minimum wage above $8.05 an hour.

The legislature doesn’t seem to think it’s problematic that the cost of living in, say, Alachua County is wayyyyy lower than the cost of living in Miami-Dade, where the cost of living is way higher than the national average. (A study recently pointed out that it takes $77,000 a year to live comfortably in Miami.)

“Miami and Miami Beach are very different from the rest of the state and county. It’s difficult to get by on minimum wage in these areas,” said Marcus Dixon, political director at SEIU Florida, an organization representing 55,000 members in various local unions across the state.

Locals have rallied for a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage, something that has passed in some other parts of the country. Although Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine isn’t bringing it up quite that high, he wants to give his city’s workers a big pay bump.

He’s up against Tallahassee, though. The state government argues that keeping wages at that level spurs economic development because businesses can afford to hire more employees at lower rates. (Gov. Rick Scott is in California this week on a “trade mission,” part of which seems to be about luring California companies away to Florida because California recently implemented a $15 minimum wage.)

But there’s one exception to the minimum wage law passed in 2013: living wage ordinances.

A living wage is defined as the income a person requires to cover their basic costs. It’s calculated by tallying up the cost of necessities in that place specifically, so you’ll see a big difference between the living wage of Miami Beach and Gainesville.

But the ordinance on the books only applies to government employees. That’s what Levine is trying to change.

With yesterday’s announcement, if it clears all the hurdles, the living wage will become the minimum wage for ALL workers on Miami Beach, effectively establishing a citywide minimum wage. It’s likely to match the City of Miami Beach employee living wage, which is $11.62 with health benefits and $13.31 without.

If it passes, it would be the first city to establish a citywide living wage in all of Florida.

But. There are hurdles.

One: It has to go to a vote at the city commission meeting on May 11. It’s expected to pass.

Two: It has to be granted an exemption in Tallahassee, which will probably lead to a few legal tussles.

Ali Bustamante, a professor at Florida International University’s Center for Labor Research and Studies, expects it to pass because Miami Beach is such an economic heavyweight it’s hard to say no to them.

“Miami Beach can probably lobby the state legislature [because] it’s such a beacon of the state economy,” he explained.

We won’t see it any sooner than 2017, given the legislative calendar.

But other cities have lost this battle — like Birmingham, Alabama, earlier this year. The state shut down its effort to raise the minimum wage by setting a state law that totally nullified the city’s efforts.

With leisure and hospitality providing the fourth highest number of jobs, but the lowest annual salaries of any industry in the county, a higher minimum wage for Miami Beach would have a profound effect on the regional economy. It would allow many of Miami Beach’s workers to reach a modest standard of living that allows them to access their basic necessities, Bustamante added.

“When you think of tourism, which is the bread and butter of the South Florida economy, it is highly concentrated in Miami Beach,” he said.