In 2003, Florida was one of only seven states without its own minimum wage. State legislators repeatedly refused to set one, even while the federal minimum wage stagnated and failed to keep pace with inflation. Notably, most of the holdout states were in the South, where the share of Black and Latina/o residents remains more pronounced than in the rest of the country. Thus, the minimum Florida employers had to pay their workers was the federal rate, $5.15 per hour, a rate unchanged since the late 1990s. This rate would be equivalent to $8.45 in 2023 dollars.
In 2003, state leaders pushed back even harder by passing a law that blocked (or “preempted,” in legal terms) localities from implementing wage ordinances. Specifically, SB 54 stated that a local government (e.g., county, city, or district) could not establish or require employers to pay a minimum wage other than the federal minimum wage (and once it had one, Florida’s minimum wage). Local governments could still set wage floors for their own employees and subcontractors, but not for employees of private businesses operating within local government limits.
This ban on local wage ordinances was a direct counter to the growing number of living wage ordinances being passed in South Florida, many spearheaded by pro-worker organizers. Senate staff analysis on SB 54 relays that before this bill’s passage, three counties (Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach) and one city (Miami Beach) had passed living wage ordinances since 1999, with Miami-Dade as the first. Campaigns stemming from the national “living wage” movement were building momentum in other Florida cities too, including major metros like Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa.
Since the 1980s, state governments have increasingly used preemption as a tool to counteract pro-worker local policymaking. In 2023, the Florida Legislature attempted (but failed) to weaken localities even further by preempting cities and states from mandating wage floors for subcontractors performing public services (e.g., sanitation pick-up). The 1980s signaled a rise in abusive preemption, but the practice emerged centuries ago in the years after the Civil War. Just as the Black Codes were used to arrest, indenture, and disenfranchise formerly enslaved Southerners, preemption has become a way to block, invalidate, and weaken local policies that give Black and marginalized immigrant workers a fair shot at economic prosperity.
 Florida Statutes 218.077