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

Supporters of Miami-Dade County’s wage theft program continue to protest last week’s House passage of a bill that prohibits local governments from “adopting or maintaining in effect law, ordinance, or rule for purpose of addressing” wage theft, the practice of employers stiffing workers out of the wages they are owed.

The bill, filed by state Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, preempts the existing Miami-Dade anti-wage theft ordinance. According to a report conducted by the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University, that ordinance has succesfully recovered $400,000 since September 2010.

In a press release issued today, members of the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, including AFL-CIO, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, Florida Immigrant Coalition, WeCount! and the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy (also known as RISEP) state: “A petition with more than 6,000 signatures from Florida residents will be delivered to Macy’s Vice-President of Legislative Affairs, Paul Imbrone, who is chairman of the Board of Directors for the Florida Retail Federation, the main proponent behind the Wage Theft Preemption bills.”

The Florida Retail Federation has a pending court case challenging the constitutionality of the Miami-Dade County’s wage theft program.

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,” that he says “is a civil cause of action for workers to recover unpaid wages, that counties will be able to put in place.”

Fleming adds that the Retail Federation believes the system created by Miami-Dade County to handle cases related to unpaid wages is unconstitutional, and operates like a court system set up outside of the requirements of the state’s constitution.

Rep. Goodson echoed those sentiments during a House session last week, arguing that voting against his bill was akin to voting against the Florida constitution, because it states that  “no other courts may be established.”

“We sympathize with workers who have received their rightful wages, we believe there are some problems that should and could be addressed,” Fleming tells the Independent. The bill, he says is an attempt at “a statewide constitutional solution.”

Fleming adds that the Federations does not endorse wage theft, and would like to work with “the activists, the county, and [an] interfaith task force on a solution that we feel does meet that constitutional test.”

If Goodson’s bill passes in both chambers of the state legislature and is signed into law, Miami “will have to create a system in compliance with the statute,” an administrative non-judicial process that “we believe would be constitutional,” says Fleming.

South Florida clergy, labor and community advocates who spoke Thursday at Miami’s Church of the Open Door called on residents to step up their efforts for economic equality, and hold elected officials and for-profit corporations accountable for their actions. Several of the event’s participants spoke out against Goodson’s bill.

The report conducted by RISEP states what supporters of the local anti-wage theft ordinances have told the Independent in the past: 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.”

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