The Hillsborough County Commission took a bold stand for low-income workers this week when it passed a wage theft ordinance. The ordinance will provide workers who believe they have been cheated out of pay or benefits with an easier way to resolve their claims. The ordinance puts workers first and paves the way for meaningful, safe resolution.
As low-income workers across the country fight for better wages and working conditions, wage theft has emerged as an important battleground. Wage theft occurs when employers intentionally withhold pay, and it is a particular problem in the restaurant, tourism and construction industries. Absent a state law that addresses the issue, local governments in Florida have been creating wage theft ordinances to hold employers accountable and recover lost income. The most popular model was created in Miami-Dade County, where the government acts a mediator for disputing parties.
Hillsborough's ordinance is a reasonable compromise that allows the county to retain oversight but distributes mediation responsibilities to state courts and enlists Bay Area Legal Services for workers' legal representation if talks fail. As the ordinance takes root, the commission should ensure that the hybrid model works as intended. Other Tampa Bay governments should get on board.