By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
This week, a bill that would remove local ordinances requiring companies to pay living wages passed through a committee in the Florida Legislature.
The bill is aimed at cracking down on local laws in Orlando, Miami Beach and Gainesville that ask certain employers to pay employees slightly more than the minimum wage. Some of these ordinances have been in place for more than a decade. Opponents of the proposed bill say living-wage laws have helped the local economy because workers are not constantly struggling in some industries.
Much like an anti-wage theft ordinance in the GOP-led Florida Legislature two years ago, state lawmakers want to strip the ability of local governments to put in place more progressive labor laws and practices.
Miami Dade and Broward counties would have their decades-old living wage ordinances repealed and local governments would be banned from enacting similar employment benefits under a bill passed Wednesday by a House committee.
The measure, HB 655, by Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, not only would preempt the laws in the state’s most populous counties and in cities such as Orlando, Miami Beach and Gainesville, but it would ban Precourt’s home county, Orange, from enacting a sick time proposal set to go before voters in 2014.
“Some counties like Miami-Dade are so large that their ordinances are really distorting the current economy and there is a need for uniformity,’’ Precourt told the House Local and Federal Affairs Committee. He said the laws have suppressed the ability of the state to generate jobs.
According to the Times/Herald, “the bill was quietly endorsed by most of Tallahassee’s business establishment — the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Associated Industries of Florida, the utility contractors, and Associated General Contractors.”
But this isn’t the only proposed law that would take away local governments’ powers to pass labor laws.
Simmons’ bill, if passed, will prohibit a “political subdivision” — which means “a county, municipality, department, commission, special district, board, or other public body” — from requiring “an employer to provide family or medical leave benefits to an employee and may not otherwise regulate such leave.”
The bill states that the prohibition is “for purposes of uniform application of this section throughout the state, with the exception of family or medical leave benefits regulated under federal law or regulations, the regulation of family and medical leave benefits is expressly preempted to the state.”
Progressive organizations throughout the state have taken on labor laws and have focused on lobbying for local laws. That’s because Florida is a right-to-work state, which means unions have little influence over what labor laws are in place, and the Florida Legislature has been increasingly friendly to business while becoming more hostile toward labor. During that shift, low-skilled, low-paying jobs have flooded the state.
However, the GOP-led Florida Legislature is looking to squash efforts in a few liberal-leaning counties to make labor laws more favorable for workers. The bills will strike down living wage regulations and sick leave ordinances. Proponents of the bills argue that living wage regulations and sick leave ordinances kill jobs because they hurt business owners. They also argue that there is a lack of uniformity in the state when such local laws exist.