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Friday, April 25, 2014

Florida Retail Federation, Republican Legislators Still Want To Legalize Wage Theft

I previously reported that big business in Florida has made three attempts to repeal local efforts to crack down on corporate wage theft. It all started when Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance providing for triple damages for employers who fail to pay wages. First, Big Employer tried to get legislation passed to repeal local laws that punish employers for stealing employee wages. Employees got another victory when Broward County passed its own wage theft ordinance. Then the Florida Retail Federation along with Republican legislators made another failed attempt last year to pass legislation that would legalize wage theft.  Alachua County's new wage theft ordinance just went into effect. Palm Beach County is still working on efforts to combat wage theft.

I thought maybe the Republicans and Big Employer would give up after these losses. Well, they're baaaack. This time, they're going after all of Florida's laws requiring timely payment of wages, under the Orwellian guise of an anti-wage theft law. SB 926 is a parade of horrors for Florida employees. What do the working people of Florida get in this lovely gift for thieving employers?
  • Any ordinances passed by counties that are beneficial to employees whose wages were stolen will be gone. All counties can do is try to mediate the dispute to try to get the employee paid, with no enforcement ability.
  • The statute of limitations is shortened from 2 years to 1 year (and 2 years is pretty short for many employees who put up with late and partial payment of wages for years based on false promises).
  • Employees have to eat their attorney's fees. Right now, prevailing employees get to make thieving employers pay their attorney's fees, which can be as much as or more than the wages owed.
  • Counties, cities and towns that steal employee wages get a free pass. I guess government employees are now volunteers if their employer decides to stop paying? 
 Just who is it that benefits from making it more difficult for employees to go after thieving employers? It isn't the taxpayer who works for a living. It isn't legitimate Florida business either. How can any business compete with a company that gets free labor?

The Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy Center for Labor Research and Studies at Florida International University did a study about wage theft in Florida and it's an eye-opener. Here are some of their key findings:

  • The primary pillars of Florida’s economy are undermined by widespread theft of employees’ wages. Florida’s key industries have the highest numbers of reported wage violations—tourism, retail trade and construction. 
  • In spite of ample evidence of widespread wage theft among low income workers, as of December 2011, the Florida Attorney General had not brought one single civil action to enforce the state’s minimum wage law enacted in 2004. 
  • Jobs in both tourism and retail tend to pay relatively low wages. Thus, when there is theft from wages that are already relatively low, employees and their families are likely to suffer even more severely. 
  • The wage theft stories collected by community based organizations offer a glimpse into the impact of wage theft on individual employees. They demonstrate the unscrupulous competitive advantage that some employers gain by ignoring the law and causing suffering most often among those who can least afford it. When we consider that many employees who lose wages to wage theft earn at or near minimum wage with no benefits like health insurance we can imagine that the loss of even a small amount of earnings imposes real hardship. 
  • This analysis of wage theft cases also raises the question of whether a county and state economy can be healthy and grow while tolerating an unjust business model that avoids contributing to tax revenues. The employers who fail to follow the laws concerning their employees create an unfair business environment that penalizes those who do follow the law. Maintaining a level playing field for businesses is critical to maintaining a competitive business environment and to economic growth. The dishonest business model of practicing wage theft puts law abiding employers at a competitive disadvantage and undermines Florida’s efforts to attract business.
  • The data from this report reveals that over $28 million dollars have been recovered by efforts to secure proper payment of wage theft cases in Florida in just two and a half years.
  • The Miami-Dade Ordinance fills a gap by handling cases that the Federal Department of Labor cannot. In a Miami Herald article, Will Garnitz, director of the Miami office of the U.S. Department of Labor states, “federal labor law only applies to those business connected directly or indirectly to interstate or foreign commerce. For those people who work in places where the federal law doesn’t apply, where are they supposed to go?” he asked.
  • While millions of dollars have been recovered for Florida workers through the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor in just the last 2 ½ years, it is important to note that not all workers who have experienced wage theft are covered under the agency’s jurisdiction nor do all workers come forth to report this abuse. We know from previous research and the organizations that serve different worker groups that the majority of workers who have experienced wage violations are not likely to report their complaints because they fear retaliation from their employers. They believe they will lose their jobs, and they fear harassment and discrimination, including threats of being reported for deportation.
  • Questions about the cost of doing business in Florida and the risks of working in the state will also increase as more evidence of a climate of tolerance for wage theft and its impact on employees and honest employers becomes more widely known.
  • These same employers are with impunity breaking laws that not only protect employees, but also are critical to maintaining a fairly competitive business environment so critical in a capitalist society. They also serve to account for tax revenues that many employers practicing wage theft on their employees are circumventing. This dishonest business model puts law abiding employers at a competitive disadvantage.
So, honest employers are hurt by wage theft. The state and local governments are hurt by wage theft. The taxpayers who are working people are hurt by wage theft. Economic development is hurt by wage theft. Can anyone explain to me why Florida Republicans and the Florida Retail Federation are fighting so hard to gut the laws that guarantee Florida employees will be paid for their work?

If you think this is outrageous, take action today.

Call 888-264-6154 and urge your senator to SAY NO TO SB 926

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