Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine’s campaign to establish a higher minimum wage for his city has run into a judicial roadblock, as a Miami judge has declared the local wage ordinance illegal and unenforceable.
Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Peter R. Lopez ruled on March 27 that the Miami Beach ordinance that had established a separate and higher minimum wage for private employers doing business in the city violated a Florida statute and was therefore invalid.
Mayor Levine issued a statement that he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling but that the city would appeal to the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, and possibly to the Florida Supreme Court if necessary. The mayor, a Democrat, is believed to be planning a run to be elected Florida’s governor in 2018. He said he will try to bring the minimum wage issue before the voters in a statewide referendum next year to amend the state constitution.
Robert Rosenwald, first assistant Miami Beach city attorney and the author of the ordinance, said that Judge Lopez “simply got it wrong … when a prior statute conflicts with the will of the people expressed in a constitutional amendment, it is the people’s judgment that controls.”
The Miami Beach local minimum wage for private employers had been set to become $10.31 as of January 1, 2018, higher than both the Florida state minimum wage of $8.10 and the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The Miami Beach ordinance, adopted in June of 2016, would require a $13.31 minimum rate citywide by 2021. That is the hourly rate that the city currently requires for employees of city contractors.
The Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and other business groups representing employer interests, had filed suit last December 14, arguing that the city ordinance violated a 2003 state statute (Section 218.077) that preempts local governments from setting their own minimum wages. Florida state Attorney General Pam Bondi intervened in the litigation to defend the controlling validity of the state “wage preemption” statute.
The city’s position was that a 2004 Florida constitutional amendment that set a state minimum wage higher than the federal rate (Art. X, Section 24) gives local governments the ability to set their own minimums, and that Section 218.077 of the Florida Statutes is therefore unconstitutional.
Judge Lopez rejected Miami Beach’s argument and granted summary judgment to the business groups that had challenged the ordinance. “The city’s minimum wage ordinance is not valid under [the Florida statute], which preempts local minimum wages,” Judge Lopez wrote in an eight-page decision. “Florida courts have made clear that municipal ordinances must yield to state statutes,” he explained. “This Court finds that the City reads the plain language of the [constitutional] Amendment erroneously. This Amendment does not prohibit other laws, such as section 218.077, from preempting a local minimum wage ordinance.”
The state law allows local so-called “living wage” ordinances for municipal employees, but prohibits city or countywide minimum wage laws that apply to private employers.
Judge Lopez concluded that Miami Beach had misinterpreted the Florida constitutional provision, which he found had established the state’s minimum wage without invalidating Florida’s wage preemption statute. “The City’s minimum wage ordinance conflicts with and violates section 218.077, a valid wage preemption statute.”
R. Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, one of the plaintiffs, called the decision “great news for Florida retailers and the entire business community, as this ruling does not place an additional mandate on local businesses by requiring Miami Beach business owners to provide wages above what the state has previously established in law.”
Christine Owens with the National Employment Law Project, which supported Mayor Levine’s position, said that “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.”