People Engaged in Active Community Efforts — aka P.E.A.C.E., a coalition of religious congregations from Palm Beach county — this week delivered a letter urging members of the state Senate Judiciary committee to vote against a bill that would curtail local municipalities’ freedom to crack down on wage theft. The vote happens Monday.
The Republican majority in the state House Judiciary committee voted last week to support the House version of the “Wage Protection Act,” which would prohibit a city or county from enforcing or passing an anti-wage theft ordinance like Miami-Dade County’s existing measure that helps workers who have been stiffed of their earned wages by dishonest employers.
In October 2010, Palm Beach county commissioners ordered staff to draft a similar ordinance, but in February 2011 they decided to wait on the outcome of a court challenge brought by the Florida Retail Federation against the Miami-Dade County anti-wage theft ordinance.
The P.E.A.C.E. letter to Senate members adds:
The reasoning that SB 982 is needed to promote uniformity of law around the state is a weak argument with no foundation whatsoever. Should we pass laws establishing that all building codes be the same throughout the state? How about zoning laws? Different communities face different challenges, and here in Palm Beach County we desperately want to be able to establish a viable remedy against the grave problem of wage theft. A local wage theft ordinance provides a process to do so.
We have asked Senator Anitere Flores to attach an amendment to SB 982 that would exempt counties like Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, who either have an Ordinance, or are in the process of adopting one. Senator, we are asking that on Monday morning, you primarily oppose SB 982 in its current format. In the event that you perceive it is moving forward, we would ask instead that you vote in favor of the bill with the amendment. We hope that we are allowed the opportunity to locally address this critical problem, as we have been seeking to do for nearly two years. [Read the full letter below.]
Business and construction groups, which support the Senate and House bills, point to the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach as one organization already capable of dealing with wage theft claims.
Mike Jones — director of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, one of 29 groups that belong to the Business Forum of Palm Beach — recently told The Florida Independent that the Business Forum has raised more than $1,100 in an effort to support Legal Aid.
Jones, added, “We do not believe adopting a new ordinance and a new claims process is going to address the problem. Currently there are legitimate claims and the claimants are not getting redress. They need someone like Legal Aid who is familiar with the law is and can assist them. If they can, they will handle the case for them at no cost or if they can’t they will address them to an attorney who is willing to take on the case at no cost.”
Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who is also an attorney and voted against the bill in the House, explained that “if a worker does get in court and does prove their claim the attorney fees provision eclipse any wages they were owed.”
In letters to Palm Beach commissioners P.E.A.C.E. points out that filing a claim in court can take up to eight to 10 months and cost anywhere from $80 to $330 dollars, “which is no where near a reality for a struggling low-wage earner.” (Read the full letters below.)
P.E.A.C.E. also points out that funding for Legal Aid from the business community that opposes the local ordinance while actively supporting the state bills that would limit local power creates a conflict of interest.
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