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

A bill filed by State Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, that would prohibit Florida cities and counties from passing ordinances that crack down on wage theft (the practice of stiffing workers out of money they are owed) is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Florida House of Representatives.

Supporters of Goodson’s bill include the Florida Retail Federation, which has a pending court challenge against Miami-Dade county’s wage theft ordinance, the only one of its kind that exists in Florida. The group argues that local ordinances create a patchwork of rules that are a hindrance to business owners.

Opponents of Goodson’s bill, including the Florida AFL-CIO (a statewide federation of labor unions) and the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, say the Miami-Dade county wage theft ordinance can help prevent employers from cheating workers out of pay they are owed, by allowing workers to make claims without having to hire a lawyer.

In an op-ed, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, Miami President of the Florida Catholic Conference, argues that Goodson’s bill “would take away the ability of local government to address this issue with no specific solution offered at the state level” and “would allow the ongoing denial of basic human rights – the ability to receive the just fruits for one’s labor – by unscrupulous employers who place profit over principles.”

Attempts to come to an agreement regarding amendments to the bill language, writes Wenski, have been “centered on legal solutions that would burden an already underfunded court system and disadvantage claimants who have no money for court filing fees or legal counsel.”

“In Miami Dade County, an administrative model has existed since February 2010 which has enabled recovery of wages through conciliation as a first step and if unsuccessful, an administrative hearing which, between the two processes, has resulted in recovery of over $500,000 in back wages,” he writes.

Rabbi Solomon Schiff, Director of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, addressed Jewish Members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, in an open letter stating that wage theft “is not only an epidemic in the state of Florida,” but also “undermines the basic tenets of Judaism.”

“The fact is,” writes Schiff, “that many of the most economically marginalized workers — those with everything at risk, including their jobs, their livelihoods, and their ability to provide for themselves and their families — must frequently contend with this unethical, illegal and morally reprehensible practice on the part of certain employers.”

Schiff’s letter adds “I urge you as a person of faith to vote no on HB 609, to not suppress the ability of local communities to address the scourge of Wage Theft.”

Read both letters below.

120222WenskiOpEdWageTheft
Open Letter to Jewish Members of House of Reps

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