Posts Tagged ‘Palm Beach County’

Fla. bill would bar local crackdowns on wage theft

Posted on: February 17th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami (Pic by <a href="">Meredith Geddings</a>)

South Florida labor and worker’s rights organizations are mobilizing their members and calling on state senators to stop a GOP bill that would prohibit Florida cities and counties from passing ordinances that crack down on wage theft, the practice of stiffing workers out of money they are owed.

The Senate version of the bill — filed by state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs — is on the Judiciary committee calendar for Mon., Jan. 20. State Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, filed the legislation that passed a first vote in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee in early December, and a second vote in a House subcommittee in early January.

People Engaged in Active Community Efforts — aka PEACE, a coalition of 27 religious congregations from Palm Beach County — wrote to all the members of the Judiciary committee Thursday expressing their “sincere hope that you will oppose the bill.”

The letter adds:

We understand Senator Simmons plans on introducing an amendment that would provide for some sort of “courts” solution to the problem of wage theft locally. We know all too well what this so-called solution would look like, given that this is exactly what the opponents to our local Wage Theft Ordinance have pushed here in Palm Beach County. In fact, they have been successful in getting a pilot program up and running, dubbed the “Legal Aid Model,” which essentially refers victims of wage theft to the courts after an attempt at conciliation.

The letter also points to a study released in October that compares the wage theft project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County with the wage theft program at the Department of Small Business Development of Miami-Dade County. That study found that Miami-Dade received and resolved a larger number of cases than did Legal Aid.

It also found that Palm Beach recovered 2.5 percent of the claim dollars through conciliation; Miami-Dade recovered 45 percent of claim dollars.

South Florida Jobs with Justice, which supports organized labor and workers, issued a press release Thursday calling on its members to contact Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, the chair of the Judiciary committee, urging her to kill the bill.

Jobs with Justice writes:

This bill, mis-titled Wage Theft Protection for Employees, does not protect employees but instead takes away the ability of local government to do so. Should the bill pass, workers throughout Miami-Dade County will no longer be able to seek viable help when they work and are not paid. And local governments in other counties won’t be able to step up and help their residences either.

In January, the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy (known as RISEP) at Florida International University released a study that shows that wage theft — employers stiffing workers out of money they are owed — remains a widespread problem that affects millions of Floridians.

The report states what supporters of the local anti-wage theft ordinances have told The Florida Independent before: Existing federal workplace laws do not protect millions of workers, including “hospital, school, or government workers or workers at small, local firms, including contractors for larger companies.” Florida’s minimum wage law also excludes millions of workers “from protections against employers who withhold their earnings.”

The business lobby that supports the Goodson/Simmons bill includes the Florida Retail Federation, which has a pending court challenge against the Miami-Dade anti-wage theft ordinance, and Associated Builders and Contractors.

Samantha Hunter Padgett, deputy general counsel for the Florida Retail Federation, told the Independent in December that her organization supports Simmons’ bill because “existing state and federal laws address the issues raised in local wage theft ordinances.

Jeanette Smith, a registered Republican and a member of the Florida Wage Theft Task Force, opposes Goodson and Simmons’ bill. She tells the Independent that “a large number of employees in Florida do not fall under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, nor any other federal law.”

According to Smith, when opponents of local anti-wage theft ordinances say it’s a federal issue, “they’re assuming people can go to the wage and hours division of the federal department of labor for assistance, and they can’t.”

Miami-Dade anti-wage theft ordinance is working, study shows

Posted on: November 11th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments
People Engaged in Active Community Efforts (aka PEACE) released a study Thursday that finds that Miami-Dade County’s anti-wage theft ordinance is “much more effective” at dealing with wage theft claims than the process in Palm Beach County, where no such ordinance exists. The Miami-Dade measure is under attack in the courts, and in the state Legislature.


Florida state Sen. Goodson joins effort to block local anti-wage theft ordinances

Posted on: November 9th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

State Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, yesterday filed his first bill for the upcoming 2012 legislative session: House Bill 609, which preempts all local laws, ordinances or rules that address wage theft in the state. (more…)

Religious coalition in Palm Beach calls for countywide anti-wage theft ordinance

Posted on: November 8th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments
People Engaged in Active Community Efforts — aka PEACE, a coalition of  27 religious congregations from Palm Beach County — told 450 of its members Monday night that it is urgent to continue their campaign to create a countywide anti-wage theft ordinance.


Florida Gov. Rick Scott cuts $2million from at-risk women and children program

Posted on: May 31st, 2011 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott cut close to $2 million in health services for at-risk women and children in line-item vetoes to the state budget. Among the projects cut was $200,000 for a pilot program to be carried out by the Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County that would have provided specialized care for high-risk first-time mothers throughout the county. #

Healthy Start Coalitions in Florida were created in 1991 by Gov. Lawton Chiles in an effort “to build local coalitions to reduce Florida’s alarmingly high infant mortality rate” at the time. The coalitions focus on making sure that “at- risk mothers receive the care they need for a healthy pregnancy and baby.” #

The Orange County pilot program would have started a “nurse-family partnership.” These partnerships provide at-home visits from nurses for at-risk mothers. The nurses would provide care for both the mother and child, as well as educate new mothers. #

The executive director of the Orange County Healthy Start Coalition, Linda Sutherland, says the program would have been a big help to the community. She was also hopeful that the program would have been used as a model for the rest of the state. #

She says the funding cut is a big loss for women in the county. #

“This means that several hundred women will not get the services they need,” she says. #

Sutherland says that Palm Beach County and Duval County received money for similar programs. Yet both Orange County and Gadsden lost money for their nurse-family partnerships. #

Gadsden lost $500,000 for its nurse-family partnership, bringing the tally of cuts to women’s and children’s health services in line-item vetoes to almost $2 million. #

In controversial robo-calls heard throughout the state, Scott’s voice is featured calling these projects “special interest waste.#

Sutherland says cutting these projects is actually a “double-whammy” to women seeking health services in the state. All Healthy Start Coalitions in the state of Florida had already received a 15 percent across-the-board cut in the state’s budget. #

As mentioned previously, crisis pregnancy centers were not among the programs cut in line-item vetoes. Sutherland says this is because legislators in Florida “philosophically agree with the mission of CPCs.” She says that cutting funding for Healthy Start yet retaining crisis pregnancy center services is an “oxymoron.” #

Because Healthy Start Coalitions service at-risk mothers, they receive a lot of referrals from crisis pregnancy centers in Florida. These pregnancy centers aim to dissuade women from receiving abortions (and they have been found to use medically inaccurate information to do so). Once a crisis pregnancy center convinces at-risk women to keep their pregnancy, they can only receive care from a place such as Healthy Start. #

Family planning and aid for women that would reduce unintended pregnancies in the state were also slashed in this year’s budget. #

Florida religious group to state Senate: save anti-wage theft protections

Posted on: April 22nd, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

People Engaged in Active Community Efforts — aka P.E.A.C.E., a coalition of religious congregations from Palm Beach county — this week delivered a letter urging members of the state Senate Judiciary committee to vote against a bill that would curtail local municipalities’ freedom to crack down on wage theft. The vote happens Monday.

The Republican majority in the state House Judiciary committee voted last week to support the House version of the “Wage Protection Act,” which would prohibit a city or county from enforcing or passing an anti-wage theft ordinance like Miami-Dade County’s existing measure that helps workers who have been stiffed of their earned wages by dishonest employers.

In October 2010, Palm Beach county commissioners ordered staff to draft a similar ordinance, but in February 2011 they decided to wait on the outcome of a court challenge brought by the Florida Retail Federation against the Miami-Dade County anti-wage theft ordinance.

The P.E.A.C.E. letter to Senate members adds:

The reasoning that SB 982 is needed to promote uniformity of law around the state is a weak argument with no foundation whatsoever. Should we pass laws establishing that all building codes be the same throughout the state? How about zoning laws? Different communities face different challenges, and here in Palm Beach County we desperately want to be able to establish a viable remedy against the grave problem of wage theft. A local wage theft ordinance provides a process to do so.

We have asked Senator Anitere Flores to attach an amendment to SB 982 that would exempt counties like Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, who either have an Ordinance, or are in the process of adopting one. Senator, we are asking that on Monday morning, you primarily oppose SB 982 in its current format. In the event that you perceive it is moving forward, we would ask instead that you vote in favor of the bill with the amendment. We hope that we are allowed the opportunity to locally address this critical problem, as we have been seeking to do for nearly two years. [Read the full letter below.]

Business and construction groups, which support the Senate and House bills, point to the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach as one organization already capable of dealing with wage theft claims.

Mike Jones — director of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, one of 29 groups that belong to the Business Forum of Palm Beach — recently told The Florida Independent that the Business Forum has raised more than $1,100 in an effort to support Legal Aid.

Jones, added, “We do not believe adopting a new ordinance and a new claims process is going to address the problem. Currently there are legitimate claims and the claimants are not getting redress. They need someone like Legal Aid who is familiar with the law is and can assist them. If they can, they will handle the case for them at no cost or if they can’t they will address them to an attorney who is willing to take on the case at no cost.”

Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who is also an attorney and voted against the bill in the House, explained that “if a worker does get in court and does prove their claim the attorney fees provision eclipse any wages they were owed.”

In letters to Palm Beach commissioners P.E.A.C.E. points out that filing a claim in court can take up to eight to 10 months and cost anywhere from $80 to $330 dollars, “which is no where near a reality for a struggling low-wage earner.” (Read the full letters below.)

P.E.A.C.E. also points out that funding for Legal Aid from the business community that opposes the local ordinance while actively supporting the state bills that would limit local power creates a conflict of interest.

Letter to Senate Judiciary



Letters to Palm Beach County Commissioners

South Florida organization presses for local anti-wage theft ordinance

Posted on: April 15th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Supporters of local anti-wage theft ordinances who also reject a state bill that would block those measures are working to make sure communities and local and state officials hear what they have to say. #
At least 1,400 members of the congregation-based organization PEACE (People Engaged in Active Community Efforts) were on hand Monday at Palm Beach Lakes High school to prompt state and local authorities to reject House Bill 241, which would render useless local anti-wage theft ordinances. #

Father John D’Mello told The Florida Independent that PEACE supports an anti-wage theft ordinance for Palm Beach County that would create an easy, quick and low-cost administrative process for workers to recover earned wages from dishonest employers. #

“Wage theft is a human problem,” PEACE has written. “Wage Theft may be viewed as  a legal problem. Wage Theft is also a moral problem. It is an injustice when employers continue to get away with not paying or underpaying their workers.” (Read the full document below.) #

D’Mello said that Palm Beach County Commissioners Paulette Burdick, Shelley Vana, Priscilla Taylor and Jess Santamaria agreed to write a letter telling legislators to stop House Bill 241 and its Senate counterpart. #

D’Mello said participants also discussed the need to add deterrents, in the form of penalties, to the local ordinance for employers who cheat workers out of their wages. #

The Republican majority in the House Judiciary Committee yesterday passed the House version of the bill. #

In an op-ed published by The Miami-Herald this Thursday, Jose Rodriguez, staff attorney at Florida Legal Services, wrote: #

In our overheated political climate almost everything is contested. But you’d think we could all agree that when somebody works they should get paid for it, and if they haven’t gotten paid, they should have a way to recover the wages they are owed. It’s good economics and, more important, it’s just plain fair. #

Apparently, some members of the Florida Legislature do not agree. They’ve introduced legislation (HB241/SB982) banning cities and counties from enacting laws that protect unpaid workers. This is an extraordinary incursion on the home-rule powers localities have to address problems affecting their communities. #

Miami-Dade County passed an anti-wage theft ordinance in February 2010. The Florida Retail Federation, which supports the proposed bill banning local wage theft ordinances, has challenged the constitutionality of the county’s measure in court. #

The Herald op-ed adds: #

For all the hype about how litigious our country is, the truth is that lawsuits are rarely an option for low-wage workers. The limited damages they would recover, combined with the time and expense in filing a lawsuit, mean that these workers can seldom find lawyers able to take their case. #