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Workers and employers come together on wage theft bill

There’s been a significant hatchet-burying in Tallahassee, where advocates for low-wage workers and the business community are working together on a wage theft bill.

Florida employers were backing a bill that would repeal Miami-Dade County’s wage theft ordinance and forbid any other city or county from adopting one of its own. Many employees opposed them. The Dade ordinance gives workers who are stiffed out of their pay a place to complain and a chance to recover what they’re owed.

But Palm Beach County is now drafting a wage theft ordinance. It’s different from the one in Miami, and Florida Farmworkers Association spokeswoman Karen Woodall had to agree with her opponents: a patchwork was taking shape; different rules in different places. “We have all agreed that this needs to be a statewide solution,” said Woodall.

John Rogers of the Florida Retail Federation had to make a concession of his own, that something needs to be done about wage theft in Florida. “While theft and breach of contract are illegal,” said Rogers, “there is nothing that addresses wage theft. So we think some statewide standard and a statewide tribunal to deal with it is probably the best way to go.”

Retailers were joined by builders, contractors and the hospitality industry in supporting the repeal bill. Supporters say about a million dollars in illegally unpaid wages has been recovered under Miami-Dade County’s wage theft ordinance and the system it set up. The Senate Community Affairs Committee passed the bill as is, expecting it to be amended with a compromise in another committee.

--Rick Stone

WageTheft audio