Analysis: Two Senate bills would shrink paychecks

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In the midst of almost 10 percent unemployment and widespread home foreclosure, the Florida legislature is pushing through two bills that would shrink paychecks for Florida’s hard-hit families.

SB 2106, which is patently unconstitutional, would slash Florida’s subminimum wage for workers who receive tips from $4.65 to $2.13 per hour. Currently, tipped workers are paid $4.65 an hour by their employers, and this rate increases each year to keep pace with inflation. The Florida bill would lower the base wage for tipped workers to the federal rate of $2.13, which has not increased in more than 20 years.  A National Employment Law Project analysis of the bill is available here.

Knowing that lowering wages for struggling families will not play well with voters, architects of the bill have attempted to whitewash this damaging bill as a wage increase for workers. Currently, workers receive a wage of $4.65 an hour, and if tips don’t bring the worker up to the hourly state minimum wage of $7.67, the employer is required to make up the difference. However, numerous studies show widespread violations of this requirement, and low-wage workers have little recourse because there is no state agency responsible for enforcing it (Florida is one of few states without a Department of Labor). While the proposed bill requires businesses “guarantee” that workers receive $9.98 per hour after tips, the effect for workers will be reduced earnings of $2.52 an hour, as they receive a lower base pay from employers and customers tipping at the same rate.

The bill to cut tipped workers’ pay is currently under consideration in the Senate’s Tourism and Commerce Committee, and is backed by the Florida Restaurant lobby, in an attempt to reduce wages and increase profits for the restaurants they represent. Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and Tampa-based Outback Steakhouse (OSI Restaurant Partners, LLC) have issued statements supporting the legislation.  Although supporters of the bill claim that Florida’s current tipped minimum wage is hurting businesses, the National Restaurant Association projects that Florida is the third fastest growing state for restaurant jobs.

At the same time, the Florida legislature is also pushing through SB 862, which would prevent cities and counties in Florida from enacting policies to help workers recover unpaid wages from their employers.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.