Thousands could have paychecks cut under Florida House plan

Business groups have been trying for years to eliminate local living wage ordinances.
The Florida Capitol Complex as seen on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Tallahassee.
The Florida Capitol Complex as seen on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Tallahassee. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published April 26|Updated April 28

TALLAHASSEE — Tens of thousands of Floridians, from baseball players to airport workers, could eventually see their paychecks slashed under a bill advancing through the state Legislature.

HB 917 would prohibit local living wage ordinances like the ones passed by St. Petersburg and Miami-Dade County, and it would allow Major League Baseball to pay minor league players less than the minimum wage.

The bill has the backing of powerful business groups. Last year, a St. Petersburg-based company pushed unsuccessfully for the Legislature to prohibit such ordinances.

But labor unions and Florida’s counties argue it would hurt some of the state’s lowest-paid workers while the cost of living continues to rise.

Cities and counties since 1999 have passed ordinances requiring their contractors to pay employees higher than the state’s minimum wage, currently $11 per hour.

In Miami-Dade County, the ordinance applies to companies with contracts with the county of at least $100,000. More than 28,000 employees across more than 1,000 companies are required to make at least $15.03 per hour with health benefits ($18.73 per hour without health benefits).

The contracted workers include those in food service, security and custodial services, as well as airport workers and health care professionals, according to the county.

In St. Petersburg, about 1,140 contracted workers are earning at least $15 per hour, according to the city. In Broward County, about 5,000 people earn at least $15 per hour with health benefits.

The AFL-CIO and liberal-leaning groups said repealing the provision could be a disaster.

“You guys have talked a lot about inflation, the (President Joe) Biden inflation,” Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, told lawmakers on Monday. “How is this helping people survive the Biden inflation?”

The bill sponsor, Rep. Brad Yeager, R-New Port Richey, said the labor market will dictate how much those people should be paid.

“When a company cannot find workers, they will have to increase their wages,” he said. “That’s what the free market will do.”

As a concession, a House committee on Monday amended the bill so that current contracts with cities and counties would not be affected by the bill.

State lawmakers have tried numerous times in recent years to prohibit such local ordinances.

Last year, it was with the support of Power Design, a St. Petersburg-based electrical company that paid millions to settle a wage theft case in 2020. Since September, the company has donated $60,000 to Gov. Ron DeSantis and $70,000 to a political action committee controlled by its lobbyists.

The company didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for DeSantis said the governor would “decide on the merits of the bill in final form if and when it passes.”

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This year, the legislation has the support of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other groups and several top GOP lawmakers.

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said last week that he supported the provision, although he didn’t know if it would pass this year.

“There are certain things that belong at the state level and need to be uniform,” Renner said. “Wages is one of those.”

Until Monday, HB 917 only dealt with baseball players. The bill would allow minor league baseball players to be paid below the minimum wage.

A day after HB 917 and its companion, SB 892, were introduced in February, the billionaire patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs donated $1 million to DeSantis’ campaign, reporter Jason Garcia wrote in his Seeking Rents newsletter on Substack.

Major League Baseball this month reached the first-ever bargaining agreement with minor league players, with everyone making at least $20,000 per year. The agreement lasts five years.

Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, the sponsor of SB 892, once worked as a clubhouse attendant for a Boston Red Sox rookie-league team. His job consisted of doing laundry, vacuuming and driving players from their hotels to the games.

He said he made more than the players themselves, an arrangement that baseball players accepted for the chance to make hundreds of millions of dollars in the big leagues.

“The way the way I look at it, it’s an extended tryout period,” Martin said. “Nobody is starving. Nobody is just barely making ends meet.”

However, SB 892 does not include the language that would prohibit living wage ordinances.

“I like the idea behind it,” Martin said Tuesday. “But as far as, will it make it on this bill? I don’t know.”

Times/Herald staff writer Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.

Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the role of the donor who gave $1 million to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign.

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