On Preemption of Miami Beach’s Minimum Wage Ordinance

In response to Florida court invalidating the Miami Beach minimum wage ordinance enacted in 2016 as preempted under state law, Chris Owens at the National Employment Law Project issued the following statement:

“The court’s ruling invalidating Miami Beach’s minimum wage ordinance – and upholding the legislature’s ban on cities’ addressing local needs for higher wages – is unfortunate and will hurt communities across the state.  It also flies in the face of the opinion of leading constitutional experts, who filed a legal brief agreeing that the legislature’s ban was illegal.  Miami Beach’s minimum wage law would have gradually raised the minimum wage from the state’s $8.10 level to $13.31 by 2021. Today’s decision ignores the fact that in 2004, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that established a state minimum wage and granted cities the power to enact a higher minimum wage. It is now up to the appellate court – and ultimately the Florida Supreme Court — to protect the will of Florida voters from corporate efforts to block any local minimum wage increase despite popular support and need for a higher minimum wage in many cities.”


Miami Beach enacted its minimum wage ordinance in June 2016 based on evidence and testimony demonstrating that the city’s workers simply could not make ends meet on the state’s $8.10 minimum wage (which translates to just $16,200 a year for a full-time worker). The city has one of the highest costs of living in the state. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator estimates that in 2014, a single worker with no children in the Miami/Miami Beach/Kendall area needed to earn more than $15 per hour in a full-time job to make ends meet.

Soon after the law’s adoption, big business organizations sought to invalidate it in court by arguing that a 2003 state law that preempted all local minimum wage laws still prohibited higher local wages in Florida. The city defended its ordinance by pointing to the fact that a ballot initiative overwhelmingly adopted by Florida voters in 2004 amended the state’s constitution to allow cities to enact a local minimum wage higher than the state’s. The court relied on an overly narrow, illogical reading of the 2004 amendment in ruling that the state’s 2003 preemption law continues to bar cities in the state from enacting a higher local minimum wage.

The attempt by the Florida legislature to block cities from raising the minimum wage is nothing new. As NELP recently outlined, state legislatures are responding to the success of the nationwide movement for higher wages by passing laws that prohibit cities and counties from adopting their own higher minimum wages.  Twenty-three states have enacted laws to preempt local minimum wages. While state legislators will claim that these preemption laws are necessary to ensure uniformity of wages within a state, this argument is a distraction from the true corporate agenda behind these laws. Taking away local control over wages (and a range of other pro-worker, pro-environment, and pro-civil rights policies) has become a major priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed group with extensive lobbying resources and influence in our state legislatures.

The real facts about the effects of local minimum wage increases expose the hypocrisy of legislators’ ideological objections to local action improving wages and working conditions. Studies of minimum wage increases in Santa Fe (2006) and San Francisco (2014) found that both cities fared better in employment growth than surrounding jurisdictions without increases. In fact, in San Francisco, food service jobs—the sector most heavily affected by the increase—grew about 17 percent faster than in surrounding counties during the period studied. Moreover, one of the most sophisticated studies of minimum wage increases looked at more than 250 pairs of neighboring counties where one county’s minimum wage was higher than the other county’s minimum, effectively isolating the true impact of minimum wage differences because neighboring counties tend to have similar economic conditions. The study found no difference in job growth rates.

Employers have also attested to the positive impact of local wage hikes. In the Miami Beach case, the Main Street Alliance, an organization representing a diverse set of 30,000 small business owners in states around the country, including Florida, submitted an amicus curiae brief to the court in support of the city’s minimum wage law.

Miami Beach still has the opportunity to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Supreme Court can correct today’s decision and protect the will of voters who approved the 2004 constitutional amendment establishing Florida’s first minimum wage law and granting cities like Miami Beach the power to enact higher local minimum wages.

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