Daniel Tilson: Florida House wage-theft bill adds insult to injury

Have you ever had part of your weekly salary stolen?

By an employer using unethical or outright illegal means?

Over, and over, and over again?

If your answers to the first two much less all three questions are “yes,” then you know how unfair and awful wage theft is.

If you answered no, then imagine how difficult and potentially devastating such victimization could be to you and your family.

You’d have to fight for your right to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

The first thing you’d likely do is confront the employer stealing your hard-earned salary about scam tactics like incorrectly logging or refusing to pay you for overtime, or deducting pay for repeated work “breaks” you never took.

But if your employer refused to make things right and kept doing wrong, or worse, fired you for speaking up, then what?

You’d probably think to go to the state Labor Department for protection and guidance in making things right.

But you’d find out Florida is one of the few states in the U.S.A. that doesn’t even have a Labor Department.

Sweet setup for unscrupulous employers — or, uh, “great business climate”, as Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislators would put it.

Not so much so for workers, as nearly $30 million in stolen wages during a recent three-year period attest to.

In lieu of a state agency dedicated to protecting millions of low and middle-income workers who pay the taxes that keep the state going, what to do?

Your only remedy would be to file a lawsuit against your employer.

We all know how easily, inexpensively and quickly our legal and judicial systems mete out justice and right wrongs, right?

So there you go, problem solved, right?

Uh, I know you know better.

If you’re wondering why effective problem-solving and righting wrongs as egregious as wage theft are such iffy long shots in today’s Florida, consider this.

The Florida Retail Federation (FRF), representing mom & pop operations such as Walmart and Macy’s, made upwards of $2 billion in “campaign contributions” from 2004-2012. Most — 77 percent — went to Republicans, including Scott and the current crop now in legislative session through May 2.

As fate — well not fate actually, more like corrupt collusion — would have it, the FRF has pushed hard this session for passage of a new wage-theft law, HB 957, that would pour gas on the burning building that is the state’s wage-theft problem.

  • It would make lawsuits the only avenue of redress for wage-theft victims, most of them low-wage workers who can’t afford lawyers or time off from work.
  • It would prohibit those lawsuits from seeking punitive damages, even from willful repeat offender employers.
  • It would prohibit cities and counties statewide from developing their own wage-theft protections — except for Miami Dade, which already has a successful ordinance.

Don’t think I have to connect the dots here for you to see who would benefit most vs. who would suffer most under HB 957.

In February, Scott chose Universal Orlando as backdrop for a proud announcement that “Florida broke another record” for tourism.

Retailers, restaurants, hotels and theme parks prospered. But too often they did so not only because of record-breaking tourism, but also because of heartbreaking, unfair labor practices perpetrated against low-wage, powerless workers.

If you agree this proposed law would make a bad situation far worse, call your state representative at 888-714-5779 and say, “Vote NO on HB 957!”

Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for non-profits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Daniel Tilson


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