By Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft
Incredible! The old adage “one step forward, two steps back” may soon apply to the groundbreaking New York Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2010 and the Miami-Dade County (Florida) Wage Theft Ordinance. These laws were designed to give workers stronger protections against employers who commit wage theft violations, usually in the form of unpaid wages.
In the New York legislature, some state Republican senators are calling the Wage Theft Prevention Act “a burdensome, costly mandate on every employer in the state” and a “misguided job-killing regulation”. Unfortunately, these same state senators have been able to pass their bill, repealing the law, in the State Senate and are working to have the State Assembly pass a similar bill. The component that state senators seem to have the biggest problem with is the requirement that employers provide employees annually with a written notice on their wages in the primary language of the employee. How is a written notice that explains a person’s wages, in their primary language, be a job killer? The National Consumers League urges the New York Assembly to recognize this thinly veiled attempt by business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Business Council to repeal a law that protects workers from an illegal action used by employers to help pad their bottom line and not support this GOP-sponsored bill.
In the Florida legislature, the Florida Retail Federation has joined forces with some state Republican House Members to pass a bill prohibiting all local governments from passing anti-wage theft ordinances. The bill is aimed at stopping counties and cities from following the lead of Miami-Dade County, which passed an ordinance in 2010 protecting workers from wage theft and set up procedures for workers to recover their unpaid wages.
Since the implementation of the anti-wage theft ordinance, the Miami-Dade County Small Business agency has recovered nearly $400,000 in unpaid wages for 313 workers who unlawfully had their wages withheld from them. According to the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, the US Department of Labor recovered just under $16 million for more than 24,000 workers in Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange counties. With all the rampant wage theft violations, especially in Florida’s key industries of tourism, retail trades, and construction, why would state legislators seek to prohibit the strengthening of protections for its workers?
In both states the business lobby seeks an end to the crack down on wage theft violations and the strengthening of worker protections. Do they care more about their bottom line than their employees? The answer seems clear.