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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

Brandes said his resolution’s purpose was to help those workers.

“I believe there are going to be many winners as the state minimum wage rises, but there’s also going to be people who are disadvantaged,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in February. “Is it better to be unemployed with a $15 minimum wage or employed at a $10 minimum wage?”

The resolution Brandes filed during the last legislative session would have paved the way for the Legislature to create a subminimum wage specifically for residents who had served prison time, those under 21 and other undefined “hard-to-hire” workers. It didn’t include details on how long employees could be kept at the training wage or what the wage would be.

The proposal drew support from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, whose donors include Walt Disney World, Publix and Darden Restaurants, but ultimately died without a hearing. Since then, Brandes has refined the resolution’s language, eliminating the parts that mentioned ex-felons, teenagers and “hard-to-hire” workers.

Now it states that the lower wage “would be based on a federal temporary training wage rate, if any, or on the findings of a study commissioned every three years by the State Legislature to determine a sufficient minimum training wage rate.”

That clause would allow Florida to set a subminimum wage as low as $4.25 an hour, the same as the federal youth minimum wage. But the U.S. Department of Labor authorizes employers to pay that rate only to workers under the age of 20 and only for their first 90 days on the job.

Brandes’ resolution already has support from at least one of the influential business groups that opposed Amendment 2, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“It provides some incentive to hire someone with less experience,” said Samantha Padgett, an attorney for FRLA. ”I wouldn’t call it a loophole.”

 

The Florida Chamber of Commerce did not return emails asking for comment but supported the resolution last session, arguing that ex-felons and teenagers would be “highly and adversely impacted” by Amendment 2.

Tim Nungesser, legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business in Florida, hasn’t taken a position yet but said “the resolution does highlight the growing mismatch in the economy where employers cannot find qualified workers to fill available jobs.”

Workers advocates, however, are still steadfastly against the measure.

David Cooper, a senior analyst for the Economic Policy Institute, said he worries the resolution would be exploited to allow businesses to pay a lower training wage to any new hires, no matter how experienced they are. He said although about half of states have some type of training wage, most are tailored to teenagers and designed to last only for their first 90 days of employment.

He said allowing a six-month period could prompt employers to churn through employees to keep paying them a lower rate.

Brandes and Padgett said they think it’s unlikely employers would exploit the training wage as a way to bring on cheap labor.

“For our industry, turnover is not efficient, turnover is not profitable,” Padgett said. “A good business person is not going to base their business model on turning over employees.”

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