State Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville (Pic by Mark Foley, via myfloridahouse.gov)

As a Florida House subcommittee voted to pass state Rep. Tom Goodson’s bill that would block local anti-wage theft ordinances today, 35 construction workers in Miami Lakes began fighting to receive wages they are owed for several weeks of work.

Goodson, R-Titusville, filed House Bill 609 for the upcoming legislative session; the measure preempts all local laws, ordinances or rules that address wage theft, the practice of stiffing workers out of money they are owed. State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, filed the Senate version of the bill.

Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO said during today’s House hearing that the Department of Labor “documented 9,000 cases of wage theft totaling $28 million in Florida for a two-year period ending Jan. 1 of this year.”

“By the Department of Labor’s own modeling, that represents one third of what probably actually happened in Florida,” Templin said, “because they acknowledge that the federal guidelines and federal process for resolving these issues is very weak.”

Templin said that under current law, “when this happens to workers, they are forced” to go to the federal government. “We’ve heard so much about the perils of big government,” Templin said. “Yet local governments are trying to deal with this problem and now you are smacking them down.”

Dwight Mattingly of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1577 said, “We oppose this bill because it does not fix the probem, but continues to allow unscrupulous employers who are failing to pay workers to get away with that, without penalty. There is mention of provisions in federal law — that takes forever if Department of Labor gets to those.”

Mattingly added that supporters of Goodson’s bill have suggested that wage theft complaints should go through the courts, but he said that would “clog” the judicial system.

According to Jeanette Smith of the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, today in Miami Lakes at least 35 construction workers called her seeking help to have their wages paid after working on the Residences at Lake Houses — a project to build rental apartments.

Luis, a worker, tells the Independent that his coworkers are owed anywhere from $400 to $1,400 for two to three weeks of work. Luis himself has not been paid since Nov. 21 and is owed $1,175.

Rick Colandreo of CB Constructors — a subsidiary of Current Builders, a member of Associated Builders Contractors and the general contractor at the Lake Houses project — tells the Independent that CB Structures, a subsidiary of CB Constructors, sub-contracted with J&B Construction Services “to do the work that is in question.” They have “apparently have not paid a number of their employees,” Colandreo says.

According to Colandreo, the issue came to the attention of CB Constructors late Monday.

“What Current Builders is trying to do is verify these guys in fact did work at the site,” Colandreo says. “We will need to verify their ID and make certain these guys get paid. You know, these are laborers, doing their job, and just looking for their weekly wage.”

He says workers will get paid: “Realistically, I would say the earliest would be Friday; more realistic might be Monday of next week.”

Colandreo says J&B will not be doing any more work for CB, adding that if workers are undocumented and “cannot come forward with accurate identification, then we would have to defer to our legal counsel to see what we’re obligated to do. We want to make sure that everybody that should legitimately be paid gets paid.”

“These are not employees of Current Builders; we are not responsible for hiring or terminating,” Colandreo says. “These were employees of a sub-contractor. As far as what he did to make certain they are not undocumented, I can’t comment on that.”

He also says he would defer to legal counsel when asked if Current Builders is under any obligation to know if people hired by the sub-contractor are authorized to work in the U.S. He says his company “will require [workers] to come forward with picture identification and Social Security.”

“We’re trying to do the right thing, be a good corporate citizen, and we don’t want to see a laborer not get his wage,” Colandreo says. “It doesn’t sit well with us.”

Smith of the Wage Theft task Force says she told the general contractor that her organization collaborates “with the county’s wage theft program, and if this moves forward with the county, and they don’t make good on it, it will move forward to a hearing examiner and it will be three times the amount. I was very clear there is a wage theft ordinance in Miami-Dade.”

The Florida Associated Builders and Contractors supported the “Wage Protection” bill filed by Goodson during the 2011 legislative session; it did not pass then.

John Rogers of the Federal Retail Federation said during the House hearing today that his organization opposes the Miami-Dade wage theft ordinance for three reasons: Federal and state law already cover wage theft issues, local rules can create “a patchwork of ordinances” and municipal anti-wage theft ordinances violate Article V of the Florida constitution.

The Retail Federation has a pending court challenge against Miami-Dade’s anti-wage theft ordinance; it also supported Goodson’s bill during the 2011 session.

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