Here’s how it all started. Miami-Dade County was the first county in the nation to pass a law against companies who steal employee wages. Here’s what Miami says about the ordinance:
The Wage Theft Ordinance policy is to eliminate and prevent wage theft. Eliminating the underpayment or nonpayment of wages earned by persons working in the County serves the public purpose by promoting economic security and dignity for those working in the County; by promoting business and economic development through the elimination of unfair economic competition by unscrupulous businesses that do not pay or that underpay their employees; and to relieve the burden on the public that subsidizes unscrupulous employers whose employees are forced to rely on public assistance because of unpaid or underpaid wages. An employer who is found to have violated the Wage Theft Ordinance by unlawfully failing to pay any portion of wages due will have to pay back-pay and liquidated damages to the employee in addition to administrative fees and hearing costs.Sounds great, right? I mean, nobody supports employers who steal wages, do they? Wrong-o. In steps the Florida Retail Federation. First, they try to get the GOP-run legislature to pass a law prohibiting counties and cities from passing wage theft ordinances. It actually passed the Florida House, but the Senate had better sense than to come out in favor of having their constituents’ wages stolen.
What’s a big-industry group to do? Sue, of course. Fortunately, a local judge tossed the suit, saying counties have the ability to prohibit wage theft if they want.
The sad fact is that many employers, at least in my neck of the woods, are failing to pay their employees. Some employees are led on for months as the employer gets further and further behind, with promises that they will catch up. Some are simply never paid their last few checks. Some don’t get their last check when they leave. It’s theft, plain and simple. Big companies who provide products and services and don’t get paid cry theft and fraud and bring in the lawyers. If employees leave with one extra pen or paperclip, the police show up at their homes. Why shouldn’t their employees be able to do the same when they aren’t paid?
Wage theft should be a criminal offense nationwide. If sleazy employers aren’t scared of the Department of Labor, maybe they’ll pay up when the local sheriff comes knocking.