Workers’ rights advocates in Florida are still fighting an attempt by Republicans to pass legislation that would prohibit local and city governments from passing laws regarding wage theft enforcement. As we highlighted in December, the bill was introduced to legislature by Tea Party Representative Tom Goodson:
Goodson’s latest work, House Bill 609, is a shining example of Tea Party austerity in that it actually blocks local anti-wage theft ordinances, a truly double negative. HB609, hilariously authored as “wage protection for employees,” has passed Goodson’s Florida subcommittee and will now be voted on by the Florida House. If approved it would take effect on July 1, 2012. With the Congress under the control of the very Republicans swept in by the scrooge McWave that brought the state Rick Scott, the bill is likely to get through.
Now, the bill has progressed and generated more friction from opponents who don’t see the bill as an efficiency measure at all. Among those opponents are People Engaged in Active Community Efforts (PEACE), who recently wrote to all members of the House sub-committee asking them to oppose the legislation:
We understand Senator Simmons plans on introducing an amendment that would provide for some sort of “courts” solution to the problem of wage theft locally. We know all too well what this so-called solution would look like, given that this is exactly what the opponents to our local Wage Theft Ordinance have pushed here in Palm Beach County. In fact, they have been successful in getting a pilot program up and running, dubbed the “Legal Aid Model,” which essentially refers victims of wage theft to the courts after an attempt at conciliation.
According to the Florida Independent, which has been covering the story from its inception, the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University released a report on the bill in January:
The report states what supporters of the local anti-wage theft ordinances have told The Florida Independent before: Existing federal workplace laws do not protect millions of workers, including “hospital, school, or government workers or workers at small, local firms, including contractors for larger companies.” Florida’s minimum wage law also excludes millions of workers “from protections against employers who withhold their earnings.”
The business lobby that supports the Goodson/Simmons bill includes the Florida Retail Federation, which has a pending court challenge against the Miami-Dade anti-wage theft ordinance, and Associated Builders and Contractors.
Samantha Hunter Padgett, deputy general counsel for the Florida Retail Federation, told the Independent in December that her organization supports Simmons’ bill because “existing state and federal laws address the issues raised in local wage theft ordinances.
Jeanette Smith, a registered Republican and a member of the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, opposes Goodson and Simmons’ bill. She tells the Independent that “a large number of employees in Florida do not fall under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, nor any other federal law.”
According to Smith, when opponents of local anti-wage theft ordinances say it’s a federal issue, “they’re assuming people can go to the wage and hours division of the federal department of labor for assistance, and they can’t.”
Pressure is on organizers to actively engage the voting populous and inform them that this misleadingly titled bill will harm Florida workers. With Republican control of the House and Governor’s mansion, though, the bill is likely to continue on its path unless public outcry demands otherwise. Groups like South Florida Jobs with Justice are now calling for the Senate to stop the bill in its tracks before it further adds to the problem of wage theft:
This bill, mis-titled Wage Theft Protection for Employees, does not protect employees but instead takes away the ability of local government to do so. Should the bill pass, workers throughout Miami-Dade County will no longer be able to seek viable help when they work and are not paid. And local governments in other counties won’t be able to step up and help their residences either.