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House passes ‘wage theft’ bill banning locals from handling worker pay disputes

by Dara Kam | February 29th, 2012

Counties including Palm Beach would be barred from passing ordinances establishing a way for workers and employers to handle wage disputes out of court under a measure approved by the House along a party-line vote.

The House also shot down an effort to grandfather in Miami-Dade County, the only county in the state that now has a wage theft ordinance that established an out-of-court process to help workers go after bosses they say cheated them out of their pay. That could doom its chances in the Senate, where a similar proposal stalled without a provision allowing Miami-Dade to keep its non-judicial system.

Labor unions and immigrant groups, who oppose the legislation, are pushing Palm Beach County commissioners to approve an ordinance Miami-Dade’s, now being challenged in court. They say undocumented workers in low-paying jobs are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers and loathe to take them to court to recoup uncompensated wages.

The Florida Retail Federation and other business lobbies backing the measure (HB 609) because, they say, the ordinance allows workers to by-pass the courts, thereby making it too easy for workers to accuse employers of wrongdoing. The measure would also bar workers from filing a class action lawsuit against an employee they say is stealing their pay.

Democrats argued that the bill would harm the state’s poorest workers at a time when jobs are scarce and the number of low-paid workers is growing. Critics of the proposal also say it would make it harder for victims of wage theft to seek redress in court by eliminating the right to a jury trial and limiting the amount of damages to the amount of unpaid wages.

“We must give these workers back those wages that are due to them. If we have an employer who is constantly ripping off his employees this bill will prohibit the employees from doing a class action suit.
Theft is theft,” said Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, before the 77-38 vote approving the bill.

But supporters of the measure, including Senate sponsor David Simmons, says the Florida constitution prohibits any government agency, including counties, from creating a court.

The proposal would allow counties to assist aggrieved workers by providing legal assistance and even helping to pay for attorneys’ fees but would keep the process in the courts.

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4 Responses to “House passes ‘wage theft’ bill banning locals from handling worker pay disputes”

  1. Same Ole same Ole Says:

    Typical Republicans. Anything they can do to stack the system against the working person. They should all be hung for treason!

  2. Denny Wood Says:

    Legislatures in Florida are notorious for making local government ordinances that work, illegal.

    We need to RE-ELECT NO ONE, and get a whole new legislature, not trained on how to squeeze $500 campaign checks out of special interests. They will learn that on the job.

  3. Jill Says:

    I tried to re-coop monies that were due to me from a boss so I called the dept of labor I was told that my case is going to be put at the bottom of the barrel because I only made minumum wage and the monies due to me was not enough for the dept of labor to pursue so quickly. I was then told that there would be a strong chance that I will never see that money and I should hire a lawyer. OMG!!!! What? So basically i dont count. I tell you ever since I moved to this state all it is is sunshine and corruption all around and no one says or does a damn thing about it!!!! i cant wait to get the hell out of here.

  4. mary Says:

    It’s true it seems that the longer I live here the more the law has gone againist workers. In WPB the local boards are all corrupt and the commishners have all been that way for the 25 years I have lived here, and yet they are still on the board. I understand there has to be laws and taxes but who is getting the real money not the citizens.

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