On election night last month, one of the state of Florida’s most anticipated outcomes – beyond which the presidential candidate would capture the state of the battlefield – was voters’ decision on a proposal almost doubling the minimum wage.
Ultimately, the Floridians voted decisively to raise the Sunshine State minimum wage at $ 15 by 2026, despite President Trump winning the state’s electoral votes and Florida’s Republican leaders, including its governor, campaigning fiercely against wage increases.
This vote, associated with the same result in a similar referendum in Portland, Maine that day, and President-elect Joe Biden avowed support for a national minimum wage of $ 15, promises to re-energize the push to increase it nationwide from a rate that has remained unchanged at $ 7.25 since 2007.
Florida and Maine’s votes “are further wind behind President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris to take bold action on the $ 15 minimum wage,” says Mary Kay Henry, international president of the International Union of Workers. service employees, which has 2 million members in the United States and Canada, and the leader of the defense group Fight for $ 15.
But there’s a catch: Whatever the intentions of the new Biden administration, any hope of pushing a minimum wage of $ 15 nationwide will depend on the pair of Senate rounds in Georgia next month between incumbents. Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon. Ossoff, respectively.
If Democrats win in both races – and that’s a big “if” – the party would have half the seats in the Senate, with Harris as vice president. This slim majority would give Democrats the power to pass a bill similar to the 2019 “Raise the Minimum Wage” law passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
Yet one of the takeaways from Florida’s paradoxical vote is that it shows that support for the $ 15 salary doesn’t necessarily align with partisan lines. Florida, a very touristy place with 1 million service workers, has become the ninth state to adopt such a proposal.
The minimum wage debate is one that erupts periodically in the United States, while anti-poverty proponents view a higher wage as a tool to financially lift millions of Americans in a time of growing inequality. Opponents, including trade organizations representing retailers, restaurants and other service industries, see it as unnecessary regulation and stifling jobs.
In total, there aren’t that many Americans earning the current national minimum wage: some 1.6 million workers, or 1.9% of all hourly paid people earn $ 7.25 (or less if they also earn tips), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But an increase would have a trickle-down effect on people who currently earn more than that, as those people will demand to continue to be paid above minimum wage, says Christian Moser, an assistant professor at Columbia Business School, who is also an economist. senior researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. The Congressional Budget Office found last year that a minimum wage of $ 15 by 2025 would increase the income of some 27 million workers.
The pressure for a national minimum wage of $ 15 gathered momentum for the first time following the “Occupy Wall Street” movement of 2011. President Obama took his chances in 2013, pulling in $ 9 by 2015 , but that effort was thwarted by Republicans. This has left many local governments to take it upon themselves to raise the minimum wage in places like Seattle and California.
Then, in a surprising plot, some large companies began to raise their internal wage floor to $ 15 on their own, starting with Amazon in 2018. Target this summer increased his own minimum wage at this level, bringing it to 50% above 2017 levels, motivated by the need to keep workers and to motivate them at the same time, the work in store is more complex than ever.
Other retailers were less inclined to a widespread increase. Macy’s, for its part, says the compensation should reflect local conditions. “We prefer to go market by market,” Macy CEO Jeff Gennette said recently. Fortune. “The cost of living is very different depending on which part of the country you are in.”
And Home Depot CFO Richard McPhail said wages are only one component of workers’ compensation. “We focus on more than salary, we focus on career opportunities and benefits,” he said in an interview.
Many retailers, including Kroger and Walmart, offered bonuses to store workers during the pandemic, but stopped raising wage floors to $ 15 permanently. (Walmart’s lowest wage is $ 11 an hour, but the company provides a minimum of $ 15 for certain jobs like deli and bakery workers. A spokeswoman for the retailer said that bonuses, paid time off and benefits should be factored into any assessment of his or her compensation beyond hourly wages.)
Still, the fact that pay has increased shows that market forces are good at setting wages, says David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation, a trade group that represents large chain stores.
“Retailers who hire have to hire at higher wages because it’s hard to find workers,” French says. “The market works.”
What’s more, with many stores and restaurants struggling during the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, opponents say the mandatory wage increases could push many businesses to their limits. (Minimum wage increases have typically been phased in over several years to allow businesses to adjust.)
“Restaurants are spending more to keep their doors open, while being told they can serve fewer customers. Dramatic increases in labor costs will push many restaurants into immediate bankruptcy, ”said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association. Fortune in an e-mail declaration.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on Georgia next month. Big companies seem optimistic about this. (The Frenchman says the NRF hasn’t spoken to its members about the $ 15 minimum wage push recently, suggesting they don’t see a big threat.) And Democrats know winning both seats in one state with a Republican tendency will not be easy. But $ 15 promoters see a rare opening.
“We’re going to fight like hell,” says Henry of SEIU.