BRADENTON – For the last three years, the Florida legislature has advanced efforts to prevent local governments from enacting wage theft laws to protect citizens who are stiffed by employers for money that is legally owed to them. Each year, the proposed bills have fallen short, but enemies of the working man are at it again this session.
Florida workers have reported losing more than $28 million to wage theft between 2008 and 2011, and that’s not taking into account all of the cases that have not been reported. Wage theft chiefly victimizes low-wage workers, many of whom are living near or below the poverty line already.
Some typical ways in which an employee's earned wages are stolen by their employers include not paying for overtime as defined by state law, recording required breaks that never occur, designating employees who do not meet the qualifications of "self-employed" or "salaried employee" as such in order to avoid overtime pay and other benefits, or simply not paying them for short term or temporary work, or final pay owed when they leave a position.
A number of Florida counties, including Alachua, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade have enacted wage theft ordinances to combat such tactics, which are often employed against workers who lack the resources and/or education to fight for what is owed to them.
Miami-Dade's 2010 law was the first law of its kind in the country and has helped workers recoup over $400,000 in back-pay from employers. Large corporations who hire lots of low-wage hourly employees are fighting the regulations awwnd calling on legislators to help make sure they are not held accountable to their workers.
SB 926 restricts municipal governments in instituting local wage-theft ordinances and places restrictions on funds given to local legal aid programs that advocate for victimized workers. Opponents of the bill, including the group Progress Florida, have said that it does little more than protect a status quo in which it is all too easy for employers to simply not pay someone wages legally owed.
"Floridians are working harder and harder for less and less," said Mark Ferrulo, the group's executive director. "This is the result of Gov. Rick Scott's low wage economy. The last thing Floridians should have to worry about is their employer stealing their hard earned wages."
Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy Report:
Wage Theft: How Millions of Dollars are Stolen from Florida’s Workforce
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