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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Wage theft bill headed to House floor



A bill that would outlaw new “wage theft” ordinances—similar to the one in Miami-Dade County —is headed to the House floor after a partyline vote in its final committee.

 The vote came on the same day that employee activists called a press conference to protest the bill as a anti-worker intrusion on local government.

 Proponents called it a way to create a statewide solution to the problem of wage theft, or employers not paying their workers. That solution encourages the worker to take the case to small claims court, rather than county-based programs established by ordinance.

 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 in 2010.

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 County —would be banned from doing so in the future.

The bill 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. Courts could only award “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.

Several lawmakers said they had concerns about prohibiting the payment of attorneys fees in wage theft cases.

Said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, "This really should be named the “Reward Wage Theft bill.”

[Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 2:51pm]


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