News Column

Wage Theft Ordinances Could Be Overturned

March 6, 2013

Marcia Heroux Pounds, Sun Sentinel

empty pockets

The controversial issue of unpaid wages makes a return appearance at Florida's spring legislative session, which opened Tuesday.

Two bills have been proposed that could overturn ordinances passed in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and force workers to go to court to fight for wages owed.

SB 1216 was filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, would turn wage theft issues over to Florida Small Claims Court, but allow a county or municipality to collect the money owed to an employee. The House companion bill, HB 1125, was filed by Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville.

Both bills are supported by the Florida Retail Federation, said Samantha Padgett, general counsel for the Florida Retail Federation.

"This would establish a statewide system so the issue could be dealt with in the same way everywhere," Padgett said. Consistency is important to businesses that operate in multiple counties in the state, she said.

An administrative process would be set up by local government to help workers navigate the system and potentially pay for court fees, she said. But the non-payment issues would go through small claims court.

The legislation would provide for wage theft complaints to be brought to small claims court even if it's more than $15,000, currently the cutoff, she said.

Last year, Broward County approved its own wage-theft ordinance in an effort led by then Vice Mayor Kristin Jacobs. Miami-Dade County's wage-theft ordinance is nearly three years old.

A law was passed in October that allows employees to go after employers for unpaid wages. The business community has objected to the law calling it unnecessary and that money should be given to Legal Aid to handle any issues.

Jeanette Smith, director of South Florida Interfaith Justice in Miami, said while she would support a centralized system, the proposed legislation takes away workers' rights to a jury trial and award of damages and attorney's fees.

The bills would shift the burden to the worker, providing no incentive for the employer to participate, Smith said.

Other proposed legislation potentially affecting workers includes:

SB 726, filed by Sen. David Simmons, R-Orlando, which would pre-empt local ordinances and impose a state law on earned sick time which would allow employees to earn only five days of sick time after working for one year.

HB 655, filed by House Majority Leader Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, would put new limits on how contract employees are paid when they work for local government, preempting laws now in place in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Smith said the proposed legislation is a broad brush that would effect other local ordinances including Miami-Dade County's equal benefits for same-sex couples.


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Source: (c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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