Senate bill could cut hourly wages of servers, bartenders in Florida
The bill (SPB 7201) would slash Florida's minimum wage for tipped workers — now $4.65 an hour — to the federal tipped minimum of $2.13 for companies that agree to guarantee that with wages and tips their employees will make at least $9.98 an hour.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is urging legislators to pass the bill. The trade group says Florida's tipped minimum is crippling eateries financially, causing companies to cut back workforces and open fewer restaurants in Florida.
Combined with rising costs of food, insurance and implementing the new federal health-care law, "it's going to be a matter of time before the back of this industry breaks," said Carol Dover, chief executive officer of the trade group. "Minimum wage is killing them."
But critics say the bill, which was introduced in the Senate's commerce and tourism committee but not voted upon, will take money from workers who cannot afford it.
Get Orlando Sentinel's exclusive shuttle calendar.
"Anything that reduces people's wages is not what we need right now," said Emily Eisenhauer, an associate with the Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy at Florida International University.
In Florida, the average hourly wage for a waiter or waitress is just under $10 per hour, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Dover argues that many make much more than that, and Florida's current system is "just a very unfair model, when you're looking at an employee who makes way over the minimum wage."
Dover pointed out that companies opting to pay the $2.13 rate would have to guarantee all their tipped employees are making at least 130 percent of the state's minimum wage. If any employees fall short of that figure – now $9.98 – the companies have to make up the difference.
The National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for lower-wage workers, says the bill appears unconstitutional. A state constitutional amendment establishing minimum wages and raising them each year to keep pace with the cost of living was approved by Florida voters in 2004.
Under that amendment, both the standard and tipped minimum wage rise by the same amount each year, based on inflation. This year it rose 36 cents to $7.67.
State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, scoffed at the notion that the minimum wage is keeping restaurants from opening.
"Consumer demand is what drives business," he said. "If consumer demand is good in Florida, they're going to continue to open up restaurants."
A spokesman for Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, the world's largest casual-dining company, said the company did not know about the bill until the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association sent out an alert to its members Monday. Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the company did not want to comment because it is still studying it.