Workers who were stiffed out of wages at a Broward County construction project earlier this year (Pic by Marcos Restrepo)

The author of Miami-Dade county’s wage theft ordinance has joined community, religious, business and labor leaders in opposing a GOP-sponsored House bill that would end the county’s wage theft program.

The bill – filed by state Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, and passed by House members last week – prohibits counties and municipalities from maintaining laws that create regulations addressing wage theft, the practice of employers stiffing workers out of the wages they are owed.

Goodson’s bill would preempt the existing Miami-Dade anti-wage theft ordinance that one study says is “much more effective” at dealing with wage theft claims than the process in Palm Beach County, where no such ordinance exists. A second study, issued by the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University in January, shows that the Miami-Dade wage theft program has recovered over $400,000 in lost wages since September 2010.

On Tuesday, the Miami Herald ran an op-ed penned by Attorney Jose Javier Rodriguez, who drafted the ordinance in 2009.

From the op-ed:

Miami-Dade’s wage theft ordinance helps regular working people. It also protects honest employers. Most businesses in our community do right by their workforce. They shouldn’t have to compete with those unscrupulous firms that cut costs by shorting wages.

One legitimate complaint employers often have is the cost of resolving wage disputes if they get to court. Having seen first-hand the challenges of resolving problems with litigation, this is a real concern, especially for smaller employers. That’s why, under the ordinance, there are no attorney’s fees if an employee and employer choose to use the administrative process rather than to go to court.

The Florida Retail Federation has led the opposition to Miami-Dade’s wage theft program, and even filed a suit challenging its constitutionality. That case is currently pending.

John Fleming, director of communications at the Florida Retail Federation, tells the Florida Independent that Goodson’s bill “establishes a state-wide definition for unpaid wages, allows counties to set up an administrative process to help agrieved workers recover unpaid wages, and creates a uniform statewide standard.”

In his op-ed, Rodriguez writes that the bill will not put in place a uniform standard. “The bill’s sponsor, Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, and backers of the bill say they want to make sure wage standards are the same from county to county,” he writes. “The only thing they would do is make sure that dishonest employers anywhere in the state could steal from workers without penalty.”

Rodriguez, a Miami native, is currently running for a seat in the state’s House of Representatives.

Other opponents of Goodson’s bill include Dr. Walter T. Richardson, Chairman of the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board, who sent a letter to members of the Florida Senate last week urging them to oppose SB 862, the Senate version of the House bill.

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