Florida’s minimum wage increased Thursday from $8.65 an hour to $10 – the first step towards an eventual $15 an hour minimum wage in 2026. The increase comes via a constitutional amendment passed by more than 61 percent of Floridians in 2020.

Business groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association opposed the measure, but there are small businesses owners who support the increase.

“It’s better for our community to have more money in their pockets,” says Leigh Anne Balzekas, the co-owner of the Disco Dolls, a clothing store, hair salon and art gallery based in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood. “If we’re looking at it from just a business standpoint, it’s better for our customers. They’re going to be better customers because they’re going to have more disposable income.”

Balzekas has six employees on her staff, all of whom she pays $15 an hour. She says it’s worth the investment to keep good employees.  “To train someone and keep talented employees – you do that by paying them fairly.”

The National Federation of Independent Businesses opposed the constitutional amendment last year, and said today that a recent jobs survey among their members showed that 50 percent of small business owners report that they can’t fill job openings.

“Raising the starting wage will increase the financial pressure on small businesses that are struggling to get through the pandemic and could end up hurting workers as employers simply try to get by with fewer workers to offset the overall increase in labor costs,” said NFIB Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle in a statement. “It remains to be seen whether raising the minimum wage will affect Florida’s labor shortage. Our jobs survey found that 91% of small businesses nationwide with positions to fill had few if any qualified applicants.”

Leigh Anne Balzekas, the co-owner of the Disco Dolls, has six employees on her staff, all of whom she pays $15 an hour. She says it’s worth the investment to keep good employees. (Mitch Perry/Spectrum Bay News 9)

Taking a victory lap of sorts were dozens of fast-food workers and other low-income employees who held a rally in front of a McDonald’s on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa on Thursday.

In addition to the minimum wage rising from $8.65 to $10 an hour today, the tipped minimum wage is being raised to $6.98 an hour. Anthony Sanders is a tipped employee who works at Tampa International Airport assisting the disabled. He says his raise to $7 today isn’t nearly enough for him to live on.

“Seven dollars an hour? How can we live on seven dollars an hour?” he asked. “Or even 10 (dollars an hour)? It’s not enough. I can’t even afford to pay my bills.”

McDonald’s was among several corporations who have announced that they were going to raise their wages for their employees this year – but only at company owned stores. In fact, McDonalds franchises 95 percent of its restaurants. CNBC reported that the company had “encouraged” franchisees to do the same for its roughly 800,000 employees, “provoking anger and consternation among some franchise owners.”

Florida’s minimum wage will rise by one dollar a year annually up until 2026 when it hits $15 an hour. It will then be adjusted annually by inflation starting in Sept. of 2027.