Before 2004, Florida was one of only seven states without its own minimum wage. The state Legislature had repeatedly refused to set one and even went a step further in 2003 by passing a law that prevented localities from implementing wage ordinances. Advocates decided to push for a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide on a state minimum wage. The initial call for a state minimum wage coalesced under Floridians for All, a coalition led by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) that included numerous state and national pro-worker groups and labor unions/federations. The Coalition to Save Florida Jobs, a committee of business leaders, led the opposition to Amendment 5. Save Florida Jobs worked to convince the public that Amendment 5 was harmful to Florida businesses and workers, and it mobilized hundreds of donors and powerful pro-business lobbyists. Nevertheless, on November 2, 2004, the Florida Minimum Wage Amendment, Amendment 5, passed overwhelmingly with 71 percent of the vote.

Amendment 5 amended the Florida Constitution to include a state minimum wage of $6.15 ($3.15 for tipped workers), $1 over the federal minimum wage, which had remained unchanged at the time for seven years. Beyond it being a significant pro-worker policy that gave Florida its first minimum wage, Amendment 5 set Florida apart from other Southern states, which had — and still have — much lower minimum wage rates. Moreover, Amendment 5 mandated that the state minimum wage be annually increased to match inflation.

Yet without a state Department of Labor — the department was disbanded in 2002 — or a similar entity, the state was not well-positioned to enforce this new law. Supporters of Amendment 5 attempted to address the enforcement gap beforehand. Included in Amendment 5’s ballot language was a provision that the Florida Attorney General “or other official designated by the state legislature” may enforce the minimum wage by bringing a lawsuit on behalf of the state. After Amendment 5’s passage, state leaders passed legislation that only permitted the Florida Attorney General to enforce the law, no other officials.

The result, as Florida Policy Institute and others found, is that the minimum wage has not been meaningfully enforced since Amendment 5 first went into effect, leading to a precipitous rise in wage theft. From 2005 to 2019, 17 percent of low-wage workers in Florida, or about 250,000 Floridians per year on average, were paid less than the minimum wage to which they were entitled. Moreover, wage theft especially harms the economic mobility of Black and Latina/o workers and immigrants of color, as they are disproportionately paid low wages to begin with. Thus, Florida’s choice to undermine its first minimum wage law continues to have serious economic consequences.