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Wage Theft Bill Heads To House Floor, Despite Much Opposition

Sascha Cordner

Allowing counties to create their own wage theft protection programs would no longer be legal under a bill that’s now headed to the House floor. While the bill allows for two counties that have their own ordinances in place to keep theirs, some start up programs enacted this year would be illegal and would place under a uniform set standard. And, opponents say that’s unfair.

Wage theft occurs anytime an employee is denied their wages either outright or are underpaid, don’t make the minimum wage, or denied overtime. That’s a violation of state and federal laws. But, currently, there is no set standard for employees to seek compensation against their employer—something Representative Tom Goodson is trying to change.

Since he was elected in 2010, the Titusville Republican has been filing this wage theft bill every year. And, third time could be the charm.

In its previous years, Goodson’s bill sought to have a set wage theft protection standard across the state for all 67 counties, despite the two counties, Miami Dade and Broward, that already had their own programs—a sticking point with both Democrats and some Republicans.

Now, this year, Goodson’s bill allows for an exception for all those programs enacted on or before January 2nd of this year, meaning Miami Dade and Broward are alright.

“Well I felt that these two were up and running for a longer period of time. And, I know of one other county that’s in the mix of it, and that’s Alachua, but nowhere near as far along as these two,” said Goodson.

Because Alachua County’s ordinance was created after the start of this year, it along with 64 other counties will be required to adopt a uniform standard—a move that Jeremiah Tatersall calls unfair.

He’s the lead organizer with the Alachua County Wage Theft Task Force, the group that worked with Alachua County Commissioners in crafting their own wage theft ordinance. He made his remarks during a press conference Tuesday in opposition to the bill.

“And, we can do something about it in Alachua County. We are doing local democracy in Alachua County with the ordinance, and I think it’s deplorable that the state legislators are trying to take that away,” said Tatersall at a press conference Tuesday.

The bill also requires cases to be filed in county court. And, while the measure does allow for double the amount lost if the victim wins, it does not provide for attorney fees.

And, the AFL-CIO’s Rich Templin says those are just some of the provisions that will make it more difficult for employees who come with legitimate claims against their employer.

“If it’s okay for the two most populace counties in the state, it should be okay for the rest of the state. But, I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to continue relying on 67 different counties passing ordinances. We would like nothing more than to see a statewide solution, but right now the state solution that’s being put in front of us is no solution at all, and actually makes it more difficult for victims of wage theft to recover their losses,” said Templin.

“What we have now is not a preemption bill, it is a roll back bill. It goes very far beyond simply preempting the counties that have implemented ordinances. It rolls back existing protections and rights that people have in the work place,” added Democratic Representative Jose Javier Rodriguez, another opponent of the bill and one of the architects of the Miami-Dade wage theft ordinance.

Meanwhile, the bill does have the backing of business and restaurant groups, like the Florida Retail Federation.

“In two previous session, we pursued and advocated for a pure preemption, and I think this year what you’re seeing is an improvement upon that bill, and that is not just a preemption, but a solution. And, I think with this bill and with the amendments that Representative Goodson has filed, I think you’re seeing a very fair solution that looks to try and answer the questions and the problems of both sides,” said the group's General Counsel Samantha Padgett.

She made those remarks at the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, the bill's last committee stop.

The measure passed 12 to 6 along party lines with Democrats opposed. It now heads to the House floor.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.