A bill that would outlaw new “wage theft” ordinances—similar to the one in Miami-Dade County—passed the Florida House on a partyline vote Thursday.
The bill, HB 1125, would force victims of wage theft to take their case to civil court, after giving their employer a “demand letter,” allowing them 15 days to pay the disputed amount. Local programs set up to deal with the wage disputes in a non-court setting would be banned, if the bill goes into effect. Though it passed the House on a 71-45 vote, it has stalled in the Senate.
Opponents have blasted HB 1125 as a “Tallahassee power grab” that protects big corporations and business owners who withhold wages from their workers.
"I have had a number of family members and members of my community who have worked on the job and not been paid,” said Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who represents Little Havana. ““I don’t see any justification for both cutting down people’s rights and also making it more difficult for local governments to help their own people.”
Proponents called it a way to create a statewide solution to the problem of wage theft.
The bill, HB 1125, is the latest in a multiyear attempt by the business lobby to outlaw local laws that govern the act of “wage theft,” or employers refusing to pay employees. The push has failed in previous years, and a judge upheld Miami-Dade’s program last year.
Miami-Dade County created a program in 2010 to address wage theft, launching an administrative process that helps employees recover lost wages from their employers. The program has recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages since it was created via ordinance. Broward County has a similar program and Alachua County is looking to create one.
In Miami-Dade and Broward County, the bill would leave the ordinances intact. Any counties looking to enact wage theft ordinances in the future—including Alachua —would be banned from doing so.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the bill would create a streamlined process for dealing with wage theft, one that would be uniform statewide.
“We just need a simple process, that sees they get paid,’ he said, adding that businesses needed to be protected from litigious employees. “I’ve got another clue for you: If you’re not getting paid, quit going to work.”
Under the bill, local courts could only award employees “economic damages,” and awards for punitive damages or repayment for attorneys fees would be prohibited. The bill also reduces the statute of limitations for wage theft claims from two years to one year.
The wage theft bill passed on the same day news broke about the federal government blasting a 2011 law approved by the Legislature that made it more difficult for jobless people to gain benefits.