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Good Contagious: Two More FL Counties Adopt Wage Theft Ordinances While State Does Nothing

Democratic Commissioner Beckner has been instrumental in bashing special interests who opposed Hillsborough's ordinance

Democratic Commissioner Beckner has been instrumental in bashing special interests who opposed Hillsborough’s ordinance

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The good fight is being fought…at the local level in Florida?

It’s true. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have joined several of their South Florida peers in passing local ordinances aimed at combating wage theft.  For Hillsborough, the decision followed a 5-0 vote by the county commissioners approving a “hybrid” system comparable to the one that has had success in Miami-Dade County.  The Hillsborough model makes the county the entry point for workers who are seeking back wages, but rather than a consumer protection department the workers will go through the courts administration office of the 13th Judicial Circuit.

The “hybrid” model was necessary to earn support from the Republicans who control the commission.  There, the GOP expressed interested in fighting wage theft but refused to go the Miami-Dade route because they viewed it as expanding the size of government.  The added responsibilities given to the courts administration office, which will now have to act as a mediator in wage theft claims, does not ‘expand the government’ since that office is already funded by the county.

A portion of the public comment session was captured on video in Hillsborough, where many of the county’s residents spoke out about how wage theft has affected them and why an ordinance is important:

Based on other counties’ experience with wage theft legislation, Hillsborough expects 70 percent of the cases to be settled in mediation and the rest to go to hearing officers.  The county will use lawyers from Bay Area Legal Services, an idea assimilated from Palm Beach County’s orrdinance, to represent workers in front of hearing officers or in court.  The county will budget $100,000 a year for legal services aiding wage theft victims.  

In a recent op-ed, the Tampa Bay Times praised the county’s decision to tackle wage theft and the use of the hybrid system:

Hillsborough’s ordinance is a reasonable compromise that allows the county to retain oversight but distributes mediation responsibilities to state courts and enlists Bay Area Legal Services for workers’ legal representation if talks fail. As the ordinance takes root, the commission should ensure that the hybrid model works as intended. Other Tampa Bay governments should get on board.

In Pinellas County, also part of the Tampa region, commissioners approved a wage theft ordinance based on the Miami-Dade model.  A recent study from Florida International University showed that Pinellas County had the third highest number of wage theft cases of the 12 counties studied.  Hillsborough County was second.

Commissioner Ken Welch, who led the charge for the Pinellas ordinance, said that inaction from above is what caused the county to be proactive in tackling the problem of wage theft.  The state of Florida has no agency to investigate wage theft claims.

“We do have a wage theft issue in this county,” Welch said, “and because the state has not fulfilled their role and because the federal jurisdiction is limited, it compels us to act.”

Along with Miami-Dade, which got the ball rolling with an ordinance in 2010, Broward, Alachua, and Osceola counties have adopted similar ordinances as has the city of St. Petersburg.


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