Florida communities can keep living wage ordinances, state lawmakers concede

Communities will keep their living wage ordinances, but baseball players could make less.
An aerial photo of the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee.
An aerial photo of the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee. [ FELIX MIZIOZNIKOV | Dreamstime ]
Published May 2, 2023|Updated May 3, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers backed off a bill that could have cut the paychecks of tens of thousands of Floridians.

Instead, only minor league baseball players could see lower wages — eventually.

The Florida House of Representatives on Tuesday approved SB 892, which would allow baseball players to be paid less than the state’s $11 hourly minimum wage. The bill now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

By approving SB 892, House members decided against their own version of the bill, which would have eliminated local “living wage” ordinances, which help boost the wages of tens of thousands of Floridians.

Although the state’s minimum wage law is enshrined in the state Constitution, some counties and cities like St. Petersburg have adopted ordinances requiring private contractors that do business with local government to provide “living wages” to their employees that are above the minimum wage.

In Miami-Dade County, for example, more than 28,000 employees across more than 1,000 companies are required to make at least $15.03 per hour with health benefits and $18.73 per hour without health benefits. Many of the contractors provide security, food service and custodial work.

Florida senators refused to eliminate living wage ordinances, and they voted unanimously for SB 892 last week.

Baseball players are already exempt from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets various wage and labor laws including the minimum wage.

Republican lawmakers said SB 892 makes Florida’s minimum wage law consistent with federal law.

By removing the minimum-wage requirement, minor league baseball players won’t have to worry about being prevented from participating in after-hours training because of the number of hours they work, Rep. Brad Yeager, R-New Port Richey, said on Tuesday.

“If we did not pass this bill, all we’re doing is, we’re restricting them from making their dreams and making it to The Show,” Yeager said, referencing the nickname for the major leagues.

A day after SB 892 and the House bill were introduced in February, the billionaire patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs donated $1 million to DeSantis’ campaign.

Since then, Major League Baseball reached the first-ever bargaining agreement with minor league players, with everyone making at least $20,000 per year for the next five years.

Although players have the chance to make multimillion-dollar salaries, most players never reach it, and many spend years in the minor leagues. When 33-year-old Drew Maggi was recently called up to the Pittsburg Pirates after 13 years in the minor leagues, it made headlines.

The low pay of minor league players has been highlighted in news reports and lawsuits in recent years.

Nearly all House Democrats voted against the bill on Tuesday, including Rep. Hillary Cassel, D-Dania Beach, who said her brother was a minor league player.

“They live on buses six months out of a year, away from their families,” Cassel said. “It’s not a glamorous life.”

Cassel and other Democrats said team owners could afford to pay their players.

“The bill helps exactly one interest group, and that is billionaire Major League Baseball team owners,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.

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