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Florida lawmakers to consider subminimum wage; critics decry it as 'loophole' to $15 an hour

Caroline Glenn, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Business News

A year since Floridians approved Amendment 2 to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15, a Republican lawmaker is again looking for a way to pay workers less.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes of Pinellas County refiled a joint resolution that would authorize the Legislature to establish a subminimum wage potentially as low as $4.25 an hour that employers could pay to new hires during their first six months.

First, lawmakers would need to pass the resolution to place it on the 2022 ballot; then, it would need 60% approval from voters.

Brandes calls the measure a “training wage.”

“The goal is to get an employer to offer a job to an employee they otherwise would not consider because of experience or other risks factors that make them a riskier hire,” Brandes said. “The goal here is to get people trained and then moved up to the minimum wage and beyond.”

But worker advocates argue it’s merely a way to undermine Amendment 2, which after receiving 60% of the vote will annually raise the minimum wage by $1 until it hits $15 in 2026. The minimum wage in Florida now is $10 an hour.

 

“This is just a loophole,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, director of work quality for the National Employment Law Project. “The scope of this proposal would allow a training wage for, it sounds like, any job where you have a new employee. From my reading of it, there’s no detail on what are the jobs, what are the industries where you might need a training wage; what are the skills you are asking workers to learn before they’re paid a higher wage. It’s so clearly a proposal to circumvent what Florida voters overwhelmingly voted on in 2020.”

One study by the Florida Policy Institute, a left-leaning Orlando think tank, estimated that Amendment 2 would lift 1.3 million households out of poverty, including some families earning less than $21,720. It found that as many as 2.5 million part-time and full-time workers would see their pay increase, mostly women and people of color working tourism and service jobs.

Before Amendment 2 passed, Florida’s minimum wage had gone up by just $2.50 since 2005 and that was only because of an amendment approved by voters in 2004 that raised it by $1 and tied it to inflation.

But business groups and Republican lawmakers argue that raising wages would come at the price of hurting employers, pointing to studies by the Congressional Budget Office and Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit run by a board of directors that includes lobbyists for Walmart and Universal Orlando, that said the amendment would force businesses to raise prices and eliminate jobs for inexperienced employees.

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