State Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, filed a bill Tuesday that would “preempt regulation of wage theft to state, except as otherwise provided by federal law, & supersedes any municipal or county ordinance or other local regulation on such subject.”

In other words, if passed, this bill would do away with a Miami-Dade ordinance passed in 2010 that prevents employers from cheating workers out of wages they are owed.

The Florida Independent reported last November that according to a Research Institute for Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University (aka RISEP) report, “wage theft is when workers are paid below the minimum wage, not paid for overtime, forced to work off the clock, have their time cards altered, are misclassified as independent contractors, or are simply not paid a wage for work performed.”

The RISEP report indicates there were “almost 3,700 wage theft violations from August 2006 through August 2010 in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, with over 1,600 violations from 2008 through 2010.”

The RISEP report states that the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Labor Department, “responsible for enforcing some of our nation’s most comprehensive federal labor laws,” recovered over $3.5 million in wages owed to workers, but adds:

While a significant amount, this assuredly is less than the total amount of wages lost by employees reporting their cases of wage violations to the WHD, because a large percentage of South Florida’s agriculture and service workforce are employed in workplaces that are excluded from federal and state labor laws and, consequently, fall outside the jurisdiction of the WHD.

Goodson’s bill states that wage theft is against state law and adds that “the Legislature finds that employers and employees benefit from consistent and established standards of wage theft regulation.”

The Miami-Dade ordinance has been challenged in court by the Florida Retail Federation.

“We consider the ordinance to be burdensome to business,” says Samantha Padget, deputy general counsel for the federation. “It increases the cost of doing business, it duplicates existing federal and state law, it duplicates harm if businesses get sued and it is unconstitutional because it doesn’t allow for due process for employers.”

Padget adds that the federation strongly supports Goodson’s bill, and actually brought the issue to him and assisted in drafting it.

“As a business owner, [Goodson] was interested in having less regulation and using state and federal law in a more efficient way,” Padget says.

Nineteen charitable, social, religious, labor, legal services, and research and policy organizations that support and worked to pass the Miami-Dade wage theft ordinance filed a brief that states:

The most important Wage and Hour Laws, the [Fair Labor Standards Act] and the [Florida Minimum Wage Act] exclude large segments of the workforce.

A large segment of Florida’s workforce is excluded from the basic wage protections of federal and state laws either because of their occupation or because their employer is not engaged in interstate commerce.

They both exclude a selection of work categories mind-numbing in its length, particularity and complexity.

The document indicates that “federal enforcement of basic workplace standards is damningly deficient” and that “Florida has no equivalent to a department of labor, having abolished its Department of Labor and Employment Security in 2002, and has no pertinent agency with rulemaking authority over wage and hour matters.”

Through the local wage theft ordinance, “Miami-Dade workers are now protected from the economic harm of delayed payment.”

“The brief includes a full discussion of why the [Miami-Dade] wage theft ordinance is needed and how it fits with existing law,” Jose Rodriguez, staff attorney with Florida Legal Services, writes to the Independent via email. “The judge has not yet ruled on whether or not he will allow the brief to be considered but it is nonetheless a public document filed in the court challenge.”

Goodson’s bill names a series of federal and state laws that “seek to protect employees from predatory and unfair wage practices while also providing appropriate due process to employers,” but Goodson’s office did not respond to Florida Independent calls asking about the extent to which these laws protect Florida workers, why he filed this bill and who it would benefit.

Organizations supporting the Miami-Dade wage theft ordinance:

Organizations supporting wage theft ordinance

Goodson’s proposed law:

Goodson’s HB241

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