Attorney John Morgan went on the offensive Thursday in support of Amendment 2, an initiative which would incrementally raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.
The ballot initiative from Florida For A Fair Wage has been a top priority for the influential attorney and will be proposed to voters Nov. 3. On Thursday, it was the subject of a USA Today live discussion between supporters and opponents.
Morgan was joined by Ben Pollara, a senior advisor for the campaign to pass the amendment. Together, the pair pressed against oppositional talking points and fired warning shots to businesses big and small.
“You gotta up your game and do a better job if you want to be competitive,” Morgan said during the online forum. “I would tell small businesses you have a lot more to worry about – Amazon and Walmart and Target – than you do raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour.”
If passed, Florida’s minimum wage would bump to $10 an hour in 2021 and then rise $1 each year until it hits $15.
Meanwhile, Morgan described Florida’s current minimum wage of $8.56 an hour as an unlivable “slave wage.” He diagnosed it as a symptom of growing income inequality in America.
Notably, no other state has passed a constitutional amendment mandating a $15 minimum wage. Morgan said a constitutional amendment is needed because Floridians have long been ignored by politicians, who instead are courted by the rich and powerful.
He attacked the notion that the legislature’s inaction on wage is the desire of Florida’s constituents.
To that point, Morgan cited medical marijuana’s journey to passage in Florida, which thrived as a constitutional amendment with a 72% vote despite a Legislature who earlier “refused to do anything, nothing.”
“What has the Florida Legislature ever done to benefit the people of Florida?” he implored, adding: “That’s why we’ve taken this directly to the people and we’ll let the people decide what’s fair and what’s not, and not lobbyists and special interests.”
Morgan finally cautioned that the rising pace of income inequality is unsustainable and warned of a “civil war” if people can’t afford to live in a society. COVID-19 or not, Morgan said the can should not be kicked further down the road at a worker’s expense.
“I think any business owner or any voter that’s going to vote as if COVID is forever and ever and ever is not very forward thinking,” he said. “But at some point, you can’t just be blaming 9/11 and COVID and the Great Recession for all your woes.”
“This is an act of compassion and decency,” he later added.
Opponents, on the other hand, countered that a wage hike will create a slew of negative, unintended consequences which ultimately will harm small businesses, workers, young and old, and Florida’s economy.
Jay Johnson echoed those concerns. He is the Lee County Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association President and owner of Bubba Roadhouse in Cape Coral.
Johnson said that if passed, the amendment would cost him $86,000 the first year and over $350,000 by the fifth year. Meanwhile, his business is projected to earn no profit amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Both numbers are more than we make in a good year,” he said.
Johnson fears he will need to reduce worker hours, eliminate some jobs or perhaps close his 26-year-old business if the wage hike passes.
The Bubba Roadhouse owner was joined by Heather Parsons, who is a bartender and server at The Crab Trap in Destin.
Parsons earns more than $15 an hour with tips and worries she may lose income because of restaurant surcharges intended to help support front of house staff amid a wage hike.
“It’s gonna hurt me, it’s gonna hurt my family,” she said.
Brevard County Business Voice PAC Executive Director Eric Hoppenbrouwer stressed that employers and workers, particularly the young or unskilled, won’t be the only parties burdened by the proposed wage increase.
He forecasted that higher wage costs would be transferred onto consumers because of the higher cost of goods and services.
He also warned seniors may feel the increase most.
“Senior citizens on fixed incomes can’t bear an increase in costs to services and goods,” Hoppenbrouwer said. “On the space coast, we have a large portion of senior citizens and those folks absolutely are on social security, annuities or even their investments in retirement and those opportunities to be able to gain more income are not available to them because they are out of the workforce.”
Recent polling by St. Pete Polls shows nearly 65% of voters are ready to vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 2. Meanwhile, around 23% of voters would vote against the measure if the election were held today, and nearly 13% remain undecided.
The level of support easily clears the 60% threshold required for voters to amend Florida’s Constitution.