At Panther Coffee in Miami, no worker is paid under $10 an hour. In fact, including tips, entry-level employees take home about $15 an hour on average, well above the state’s minimum of $8.10 an hour. Husband-wife owners Joel and Leticia Pollock say lower wages just aren’t an option if they want to be successful.
“To me minimum wage is offensive,” Leticia said. “For our business, it’s important that people take home a living wage, because we want the team to feel respected, we want people to stay long-term, and we want to build a culture where they’re coming to work and they know that we understand that you can’t live with less than that.”
But the Pollocks’ outlook isn’t shared by all on Main Street, where wages are a key concern as the pendulum swings in favor of a higher minimum nationwide. In fact, conservative lobbying group the National Federation of Independent Business finds wages are a top-10 issue for its small-business membership.
Despite the federal minimum remaining stagnant at $7.25 an hour, more than half the states across the country now have wage floors above the federal minimum, and big cities from Seattle to Los Angeles and New York City also have taken matters into their own hands to raise pay for low-wage workers, much like the Pollocks have at their own small businesses in Miami and Miami Beach.
Miami Beach is at the center of an ongoing battle of its own over raising the minimum wage. Earlier this year, a judge struck down a local ordinance that was set to hike the city’s minimum to $10.31 in January 2018, eventually hitting $13.31 by 2021. Oral arguments begin in appeals court in October. Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine believes the case could reach the Florida Supreme Court but that ultimately the higher wage will prevail.
“I believe its necessary, and our entire commission as well as our business community felt it was necessary, because we felt that we need to make sure that our workers in our city get properly paid,” Levine said. “We all know that no one can live on $8.10 an hour. So the question is, How do you live? The government is going to help you — they are funding you with subsidized programs, welfare programs and social programs. So, basically, the taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of businesses.”
The Florida Retail Federation, which was one of the business groups that took on the minimum-wage ordinance in Miami Beach, said the hike stands to negatively impact small companies and future business in the city.
“We all know that no one can live on $8.10 an hour. So the question is, How do you live? The government is going to help you — they are funding you with subsidized programs, welfare programs and social programs. So, basically, the taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of businesses.”
“If the minimum-wage proposal was approved, you’d see a number of other cities and municipalities follow along with that — then you’re looking at an impact on local businesses in Florida that would be devastating,” said James Miller, spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation. “You’re looking at lost jobs, higher prices, millions of Florida families impacted by this one decision.”
Wage hike may force some tough decisions
For some entrepreneurs, raising the minimum wage isn’t so clear-cut, and it means making tough business decisions. At Daily Creative Food in Miami Beach, entry-level positions begin at $10 an hour in order to attract and retain talent, according to owner Adam Meltzer. But the business has 85 employees, and Meltzer believes mandated higher wages should be reserved for more skilled workers.
“If we were to increase the minimum wage to above $13, $14 or $15 an hour, we might run into some problems where we would actually have to decrease the amount of hours our minimum-wage employees work,” Meltzer said. “We might also have to raise menu prices, which would affect customers and possibly affect the overall business.”
If the state or local minimum were to go above $13, Meltzer said he may try to have a manager perform some of the duties that a minimum-wage worker would typically perform to decrease the number of minimum-wage workers on staff. But he also sees the potential positive in higher pay.
“We might notice an increase in productivity, in employee morale,” he said. “But it might also affect us in a negative way. … We’d have to be a bit more creative with our staffing needs.”
Panther Coffee’s Leticia also recognizes the challenges small-business owners face when it comes to raising pay but said ultimately for her business, it’s necessary.
“Business owners have a lot of debt, a lot of risk, and in the end we are the ones that have to pay the bills, the bank or investors,” she said. “But we also need to share what comes in so that everyone benefits from the work we are doing together.”